Drunk driving is a serious problem in Virginia. Last year, the authorities recorded over 8,000 alcohol related traffic accidents that resulted in 5,288 injuries, according to the Virginia Highway Safety Office. Because of these worrisome statistics, Virginia law enforcement officers are always on the lookout, and prosecutors are ever ready to bring criminal charges against people suspected of drunk driving. The problem is, many innocent people get swept up in the process.
Maybe you had a few drinks, or maybe you failed a sobriety test because of a medical condition. Maybe you said or did something that needlessly stirred the arresting officer’s suspicions. Whatever the reason for your DUI arrest, the Roanoke DUI / DWI defense lawyers of Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can bring you to the best possible resolution of your case. Call today at (540) 343-9349.
Here are some aspects of Virginia DUI law that everyone should know.
1. Your DWI Conviction Will Stay on Your Record for Life
If you plead guilty to your DWI or lose your trial, the conviction will be entered into your permanent criminal record. A DWI conviction can neither be sealed nor expunged, so it will stay on your criminal record for life. However, if you get your case dismissed or if you win your trial, you can request the expungement of your arrest and charges from your criminal record. This is why it’s essential that you do everything you can to beat your DUI charges. The long term effects of having a criminal record can be devastating.
Your DWI will add 6 points to your license, and you will face higher auto insurance premiums. If you intend to get a job that requires a clean driving record, your DWI conviction will probably rule you out as a candidate.
2. You Should Use Discretion When Answering Questions
When the police pull you over and suspect that you are drunk driving, their priority is to gather evidence. They will record any aspects of your statements, behavior, or appearance that might show that you are intoxicated. The chances that you will talk yourself out of a DWI arrest are slim. The chances that you will give the officer incriminating evidence by talking are high. Thus, it is best to only provide necessary information to the officer during a DWI stop.
You should provide the officer who pulls you over with your license, registration, and insurance information. You should also follow any orders given by the officer. Refusal to do so will only escalate the situation and may lead to criminal charges.
If the officer asks you to perform sobriety tests, you should reveal any physical impairments that may prevent you from successfully completing the test. For example, if an ankle injury prevents you from balancing on one foot, you should reveal that information to the officer. A history of head injuries may cause you to be unable to concentrate or follow a pen light. These impairments may provide necessary information to the officer who is performing a field sobriety test. If the officer continues with the test, the results may be challenged if the prosecutor tries to use them against you.
3. DWI Checkpoints Are Legal in Virginia
A police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you’ve done something illegal before pulling you over. DWI sobriety checkpoints are an exception to this rule. Also referred to as “mobile checkpoints” or “roadblocks,” sobriety checkpoints allow the police to stop every car that passes to determine if the driver is under the influence.
If you get arrested and charged with DWI after getting caught at a sobriety checkpoint, an experienced Roanoke DWI attorney may be able to help. First of all, the police still must show that they gained probable cause to arrest you. Second, the police must demonstrate that the roadblock was legal. For example, the roadblock must be announced in advance and authorized by supervisors within the law enforcement agency that set it up.
4. DWI Can Be a Felony
A DWI is usually charged as a misdemeanor. But in some cases, it will be treated as a felony. Felonies are more serious offenses because a conviction will restrict your right to own firearms, vote, and hold elected office. A felony conviction on your record will seriously hamper your ability to get a job, qualify for professional licenses, or adopt a child. When you get charged with felony DWI, you can expect to spend time behind bars.
A prosecutor will charge you with felony DWI if you get three DWI convictions within a 10 year span. If the three convictions occur within a five year period, you will have to pay a minimum $1,000 fine and spend six months in jail. Your license will be suspended for three years, with no possibility of obtaining a restricted license. It’s also possible to get a felony DWI charge for your first offense if someone was injured or killed as a result of your drunk driving.
5. You Must Install an Ignition Interlock Device if You Want to Keep Driving
If you want to keep driving after a DWI, you may be able to avoid a driver’s license suspension by installing an ignition interlock device at your own expense. The device periodically checks your blood alcohol content (BAC) to ensure that you never drive while you have alcohol in your system.
The ignition interlock requirement seriously adds to the average cost of a Virginia DWI conviction, which now hovers around $10,000. You may be able to avoid these costs and the harsh penalties of a DWI by acting fast and hiring a reputable Roanoke DUI lawyer to handle your case.
To learn more about what defense strategies may be available to you, call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico today at (540) 343-9349 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.