Although the two terms have definitional differences, driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are not legally distinct in Virginia. Under Virginia law and, both terms are used to describe a person who drove while under the influence of an intoxicating substance (predominantly drunk driving).
The Differences Between A DUI & DWI
By definition, a DWI typically refers to impaired or intoxicated driving. This can be determined in various ways, including speech, movement and disposition.
DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even if they are not intoxicated while driving. For example, if a person’s blood alcohol concentration is higher than .08, then the person can be charged with a DUI (or even as low as a .06 in certain circumstances).
Regardless of the terminology, a person who is determined by the police as being too impaired to operate a vehicle can be charged. As long as the officer has enough evidence to arrest the individual, they can then make the determination that the driver is under the influence, even if their blood alcohol content is lower than .08 or .06.
Costs & Penalties Associated With A DUI/DWI
A DWI is a serious offense and carries strict punishments if convicted. Punishments depend on the number of previous DWI convictions, as well as how high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels were at the time of the arrest. Some penalties include jail time and costly fines, as well as education classes for mishandling substances and loss of license. These charges are classified as misdemeanors. More severe penalties for repeat offenses and higher BAC levels may include mandatory minimum jail time and the permanent loss of a driver’s license.
Additionally, if the third conviction occurs within 10 years of the first conviction, then the charge is elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. The penalties of a DWI go beyond the justice system. DWI convictions can cost a person their job and limit future job opportunities, either because of the ability to commute to work or because of company liability issues.
How Are DWI Cases Tried?
DWI trials depend on a person’s BAC level at the time of the arrest. If the person’s BAC level was above .08, the burden of proof falls on them to prove their innocence, rather than the prosecution proving the defendant’s guilt.
The defendant must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that they were not intoxicated or under the influence to the court, who will otherwise presume their guilt because of their BAC level.
If the defendant’s BAC level was between .05 and .08, then the trial operates akin to most other trials. The prosecution must present evidence that demonstrates guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The court will presume innocence otherwise. In cases where the defendant’s BAC level was below .05, then the prosecution must demonstrate intoxication by other means. While courts presume the defendant’s innocence, there are still plenty of convictions for DWIs that occur when a person’s BAC level was below .05.
How An Experienced Fairfax DUI Attorney Can Help
Any DWI trial in Virginia is challenging for the defendant. While cases in which BAC levels exceed .08 are exceedingly difficult because of the presumption of guilt, cases where the defendant’s BAC level was below .08 are still challenging because of the weight of the arresting officer’s arguments.
Regardless of BAC level, the arresting officer’s testimony is often the primary argument against a defendant in a DWI trial. The officer often has extensive training on DWI procedures and is prepared to present the evidence in court. The officer’s recollection of the events will often determine the outcome of the trial.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help a defendant navigate the difficulties of a DWI trial. A skilled attorney should considerable experience defending against DWIs and will have extensive knowledge of DWI trials and various defenses. In cases where the defendant’s BAC level exceeded .08, an attorney can assist with challenging the reliability of the reading, as well as the ineffectiveness and unreliability of field sobriety tests.
Your legal representation may also be able to mitigate the jail time or fines. If you have been arrested for DWI charges, having an experienced attorney to present your case is a necessity. DWI cases in Virginia can be an uphill battle for the defendant, and without proper representation, your livelihood could be at stake.
Reach Out To The Law Offices Of Kermit A. Monge, PLLC
The Law Offices of Kermit A. Monge would be happy to assist you with your DUI charge to receive the minimum penalties possible or even have your case dismissed if that is an option. Reach out today by calling 703.273.5500 or by requesting a consultation online.