Virginia has some of the harshest DUI laws in the country.
Even a first-time conviction of driving under the influence will result in the loss of your license for at least a year on top of several other significant consequences.
For this reason, it’s important that you understand exactly how Virginia DUI cases work long before your trial date.
In this article, we’ll explain 6 common mistakes individuals make when charged with DUI in Virginia. However, keep in mind that an article is no substitute for an experienced attorney.
This guide simply explains a few common issues we see as practicing criminal defense attorneys.
Mistake #1: Talking to the Police
Talking with the police without an attorney is never a good idea.
Even if you’re innocent, or believe you can convince the police that you didn’t even touch alcohol that night, it’s still a terrible idea.
In Virginia, as in every state, you have the right to remain silent when questioned by the police, and you should exercise that right to the best of your ability.
Remember, anything that you say to the police can and will be used against you in court.
If you misspeak, misremember, or contradict yourself in any way, these errors can be used against you by the prosecution.
We are not exaggerating when we say that there is never a situation in which it is wise to speak with the police without a lawyer present.
On the other hand, do note that you’re required to identify yourself after being arrested.
Speaking of which…
Mistake #2: Refusing a Breathalyzer Test
In Virginia, it is illegal to refuse a breathalyzer test after being arrested (though you can refuse to take the roadside version in most situations).
Virginia is one of several states with an implied consent law on the books.
Essentially, this means that by applying for a driver’s license in Virginia, you’re giving your consent to any future breathalyzer tests in the event that you’re pulled over for DUI.
If you refuse a breathalyzer test and are found innocent of driving under the influence, you’ll still lose your driver’s license for one year.
If you’re found guilty, however, you’ll face an additional Class 1 misdemeanor charge on top of the original DUI conviction.
Mistake #3: Not Documenting Your Arrest
During your arrest, you should try to concentrate on remembering as many details as you can.
In particular, try to remember the events that led to your arrest:
- Why were you pulled over in the first place?
- Did you answer any questions asked by the police?
- What tests did they perform to determine if you were intoxicated?
As soon as you’re able, try to write these facts down for later.
- If you were given a breathalyzer test, request the results from the police and store it with your notes.
- If the police cruiser had a dash cam, you can request that footage as well.
- If you were injured during your arrest for any reason, take photographs of those injuries.
When you speak with your lawyer, make sure to show them this documentation.
Evidence which shows police misconduct, or even simple procedural mistakes, can potentially help your case in court.
Even if the police handled your arrest correctly, properly documenting the encounter gives you a way to support your side of the story later on.
Mistake #4: Not Treating DUI Seriously
First-time DUI offenders sometimes assume that they will only receive a slap on the wrist from the court.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
In Virginia, a first-time DUI conviction will always result in a license suspension lasting for at least one year.
The court will also assign you a fine of at least $250 and tack on several additional penalties, such as mandatory participation in the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP).
Although it’s relatively uncommon for a first offense, you might even face jail time depending on the circumstances of your conviction.
If you plead guilty or are convicted, your penalties will be entirely up to the judge overseeing your trial.
Fair or unfair, you will be stuck with whatever ruling that judge makes.
For this reason, you should always work with an attorney to determine the right plea in your situation.
Mistake #5: Waiting Too Long to Hire a Lawyer
After you’re arrested and charged with DUI, you’ll want to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.
The time between your initial arrest and trial can vary significantly depending on where you were arrested.
However, in most cases your court date will only be a few weeks after the date of your arrest.
This means that hiring an attorney as soon as possible is critically important.
Waiting even a week can severely reduce your lawyer’s ability to prepare for your case, and some might not even take your case at all if you wait too long before your court date.
Mistake #6: Not Hiring the Right Lawyer
As we noted in the previous point, you’ll want to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after you’re charged with DUI.
However, keep in mind that your choice of attorney can have a huge impact on your case.
For example, public defenders generally have a long list of clients they must take care of, and won’t be able to spend as much time on your individual case.
Similarly, you wouldn’t want to hire an attorney who lacks experience in DUI defense.
Instead, you should always hire a private attorney who is experienced in the jurisdiction you received the DUI in.
These attorneys will generally know the judges, be aware of local policies and practice, and will have more time to spend on building you a solid defense.
When choosing your attorney, don’t hesitate to ask questions.
In fact, it’s usually a good idea to find out how long your lawyer has been practicing, as well as how much experience they have with DUI cases.
Likewise, always make sure the lawyer you’re talking to is the one who will represent you in court.
There’s no getting around the fact that DUI charges are a big deal in Virginia. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure you avoid common mistakes that might hurt your case.
If you talk to the police or fail to hire a lawyer, you’re only increasing the chance that you’ll face harsher penalties from the judge.
For this reason, the best and only advice we can give to individuals who have been charged with DUI is to hire an attorney immediately.