Drinking alcohol or partaking in recreational substances are areas that are regulated by the government, but many forms of these pastimes are permitted in some way. Though it isn’t illegal to enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time, you may be charged with a DWI if caught driving while intoxicated or impaired. If you are facing an allegation of DUI in Virginia, you might be worried about the penalties you could see. Here’s what you need to know.
What Are DUI and DWI?
DUI stands for driving under the influence, while DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or impaired. These categories may appear depending on the type of substance that you were found to be under when you engaged with the police. The law in Virginia defines “influence” as anything related to consuming drugs or alcohol, and you may be considered to be driving under the influence even if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is less than .08. The terms “intoxicated” or “impaired” indicate a mental or physical limitation in an individual’s capabilities.
How to Identify Those Driving Under the Influence
Those who drive under the influence or drive while intoxicated/impaired are typically easily identified through their behavior, and the police can use this behavior to allege that you were under the influence-even before they have measured your physical level of intoxication. Officers will examine:
- Muscular movement
- General appearance
Typically, those intoxicated or impaired will display the following symptoms:
- Speaking in a slow, slurred or incoherent manner
- An inability to walk or stand without swaying or without leaning on an object or person for support
- Stumbling while walking
- An inability to maintain balance
Penalties for Your First DUI Offense
Virginia classifies a first DUI offense as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which means that the individual’s driver’s license could be revoked for one year after getting convicted. Furthermore, the penalties can range up from one year in jail to a fine of $2,500 with a required minimum of $250.
The legal “limit” in terms of blood alcohol is 0.8-but penalties may become more stringent if the blood alcohol content is higher than this metric. For example, if the individual’s BAC is between 0.15 and 0.20, then it is possible to charge the individual for a required minimum jail sentence of five days. Anything higher than a 0.20 could mean an increased jail time of 10 days.
What Virginia Laws Say About First-Time DUIs
Some states offer remedial programs for first-time DUI offenders, and in some sense, Virginia does too. Your first DUI will come with a mandatory alcohol education class called VASAP, or the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program. Sometimes, judges who see that a first-time offender has successfully completed VASAP may lighten the proposed sentence. However, aggravating factors (like a DUI with a minor in the vehicle) can increase the penalties.
Who Can Be Charged with a DWI?
According to Virginia law, only a motor vehicle qualifies when an individual drives while intoxicated or influenced by drugs and/or alcohol. In other words, if you are under the influence and riding a bike, you cannot be charged under Virginia law. The only exception to this is if you are riding a non-motor vehicle on federal property, as federal laws do not specifically include “motor” vehicles. Thus, any vehicle-such as a bicycle-may implicate an intoxicated or impaired individual to be charged under federal law.
Next, individuals who are in the motor vehicle but who are not driving can still be arrested; according to Virginia law, an individual is driving under the influence if they are driving or “[operating] any motor vehicle.” The term “operating” is less straightforward than the term “driving.” Virginia law defines “operating” as whether or not the individual is sitting at the driver’s seat with the keys in ignition. Based on this definition alone, an individual could be charged if they were found to be under the influence and inside the car in the driver’s seat-even if the car was immobile.
Furthermore, if the individual was intoxicated or impaired at some point and grabbed the steering wheel for a while, they would be defined as in “physical control” of the motor vehicle-no matter how short of a time that individual was in “physical control.”
Trust the Professionals to Help You Navigate First-Time DUIs
Being faced with your first DUI can be a stressful process. However, you do not need to tackle it alone. The legal professionals at The Law Offices of Kermit A. Monge would be happy to help you understand your options for your first DUI, to register you properly in the VASAP program and more. Reach out to learn more or to schedule a consultation to get started.