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What is a DUI and a DWI in Virginia?

Virginia laws and municipal ordinances forbid operating a motor vehicle after/while drinking. Breaking such laws is subject to stiff penalties. Virginia state courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles are the primary agencies tasked with prosecuting and penalizing drunk or drugged drivers in Virginia. These state agencies also maintain official records that are available to the public via several channels.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Virginia?

In Virginia, DUI (Driving Under Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) refer to the same offense. The appropriate term, as used by state criminal justice agencies, is DWI. Nevertheless, both terms are interchangeable. Still, the offense may refer to other forms of driver impairment, such as distracted driving and drowsy driving.

A DWI is the consumption of alcohol, narcotic, or an intoxicant, impairs the person’s ability to safely drive or operate a motor vehicle (VA Code § 18.2–266). Virginia sets the threshold at 0.08% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), although persons with a lower BAC may face the same charges.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in Virginia?

A first DUI charge in Virginia is a class 1 misdemeanor. If adjudged guilty, the offender faces a possible mandatory minimum fine of $250 and the license revocation for one year. Aggravating factors such as a high BAC may result in a jail time of up to 1 year. The court may also impose an ignition interlock for at least six months. The punishment is stricter on drivers younger than 21 years old. Underage offenders face a possible mandatory minimum fine of $500, a mandatory minimum of 50 hours of community service, and suspension of driving privileges (VA Code § 18.2–266.1).

However, in the prosecution and adjudication of an offender, the state typically provides evidence that a preliminary test revealed a BAC that exceeded the legal limit of 0.08%. Otherwise, in cases where the defendant refused to submit to a BAC test, the state establishes that the driver was intoxicated using officer testimony, witness statements, field sobriety test results, as well as audio/video recordings. Likewise, the state typically needs to prove that the defendant exercised control over the vehicle, such as if they were seated and in possession of the keys.

The burden is on the defendant to disprove the test accuracy and the officer’s expertise to perform the test. He/she must substantiate the testimony with proof that he/she was in full control of his/her physical and mental faculties. Note that refusal to submit to a breath test does not affect the offender’s defense, and the state may not use such refusal in prosecution (VA Code § 18.2–267(C)).

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in Virginia?

Not likely, as the typical punishments are fines, community service, and license revocation for first-time offenders (VA Code § 46.2–389). Nevertheless, the likelihood of imprisonment increases with the person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and several aggravating factors. A BAC level of 0.10% attracts a mandatory prison sentence of five (5) days. Imprisonment term increases with BAC level, even for first-time offenders. Meanwhile, aggravating factors include child endangerment, property destruction, motivation for the DWI, bodily injury, and fatality. These aggravating factors may result in a prison sentence of more than one (1) year - even for first-time offenders.

What are the Typical Penalties for a DWI Conviction in Virginia?

Virginia is strict with drunk and drugged drivers. The following are some of the typical penalties ascribed to DUI offenders:

  • Demerit Points: All DWI violations in Virginia attract the award of six (6) demerit points against the offender’s license. These points remain for well over a decade, and the accumulation of more points results in license suspension, even if subsequent offenses are not DWI-related.
  • License Suspension: This penalty applies to all DUI convictions. A seven-day suspension is automatic pending adjudication. If convicted, the court may direct the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the offender’s license—usually for 1 to 3 years. License reinstatement is subject to meeting other judicial penalties and administrative requirements. A permanent suspension typically applies to felony DUIs, high-class misdemeanor DUIs, and habitual offenders. Additionally, the court may impose driving restrictions.
  • Community Service: Typically, the court orders a mandatory period of community service to underage violators. Adult offenders are also subject to community service, especially where the court suspends the sentence and imposes other penalties. The minimum sentence of community service is 50 hours.
  • Fines: The fines depend on offender status. First-time offenders may be subject to a mandatory minimum fine of $250; subsequent DUIs incur $1000. A DUI with a suspended license attracts $2500 in fines.
  • Fees: Besides the fines, the offender must pay court fees, attorney fees, administrative fees and may be subject to surcharges. For example, violent DUI offenders are subject to pay up to $1,000 as restitution to law enforcement and emergency services.
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device: Installing a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) is often mandatory. The device prevents the driver from starting a vehicle if he/she fails a breath test. Installing the device is at the expense of the driver.
  • Vehicle Impoundment: This penalty applies to persons guilty of DWI with a suspended license. Law enforcement shall immediately impound or immobilize the vehicle for 90 days. The court may extend the impoundment order following conviction.
  • Medical Review Program: The DMV may order that the driver submits to medical review if there are concerns that the driver has a physical or mental impairment. The medical examination is periodic and at the expense of the driver.
  • Alcohol Rehabilitation: Generally, all convicted offenders must report to an Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP). This penalty is a requirement for license reinstatement and at the expense of the driver.
  • Driver Improvement Program: This penalty educates drivers on the dangers of DUI and related driver impairments. The DMV monitors enrollment in a recognized program.
  • Insurance Monitoring Program: In some cases, the court may require the offender to show financial responsibility as a requirement for reinstatement of driving privileges.
  • Jail: The court may also impose a prison sentence in addition to one or more penalties. The length of imprisonment is at the court’s discretion and depends on the class of offense and aggravating factors.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Virginia?

The demerit points from a DUI generally remain on the driving record for eleven (11) years. Furthermore, law enforcement reports DUIs to the Central Criminal Records Exchange after an arrest. The offense remains on the criminal record for life. Meanwhile, the driving records and criminal records remain available to interested persons. Virginia only makes provision for sealing under limited circumstances (VA Code § 19.2–392.2).

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. Operating independently of any state entity, these websites often make searching simpler. Such sites are not limited by geographic location and offer flexible search options that may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or persons involved in the case. These include information such as the city, county, or state of residence or accusation.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not government-sponsored. Consequently, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Find DUI Checkpoints in Virginia?

DUI checkpoints are legal under Virginia laws. However, law enforcement officers must follow guidelines in the setup and use of these sobriety checkpoints. Interested persons may find active checkpoints by joining online communities or performing a web search.

Which is Worse; a DUI or DWI?

DUI and DWI refer to the same crime in Virginia.

What is an Aggravated DWI in Virginia?

An aggravated DUI is also known as a felony DUI. Generally, this involves DUI causing or arising from aggravating circumstances or a third DWI conviction (VA Code § 18.2–270(C)). The offense typically results in harsher punishments. Aggravating factors include a high BAC, DWI with a minor, DWI in a school zone, and injury or fatality.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in Virginia?

The indicted offender should expect the imposition of the penalties mentioned above. The penalty depends on the severity of the offense, safe driving history, and mitigating or aggravating factors. Individuals who choose to contest the charge must substantiate their defense with admissible evidence and arguments during a trial. Court trial for DWI follows the Virginia rule of criminal procedure (VA Code § 19.2).

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