When you see lights flashing behind your car, it can be a nerve-wracking experience, even if you haven't done anything wrong. However, this experience can become even more harrowing if you have had even a little bit to drink. What was just a casual and fun night out with your friends can quickly turn into a nightmare.
Traffic Stop and Arrest for a DUI in Virginia
Traffic stops generally start with the police asking for your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. However, from the moment the police approach your vehicle, they may also be looking for signs the driver is "under the influence". This includes trying to smell alcohol or marijuana, looking for bottles or cans inside the car, evidence of drug use, or even the reactions of the occupants inside the vehicle.
It is important to remember when you are stopped by a police officer in any situation is that anything you say can be used to further the investigation and potentially be used to justify your arrest. The officers may seem to be making conversation when they are really analyzing what you say. Asking where you are going or coming from may be an indicator that there are inconsistencies in your story or that you are coming from a place where alcohol was being served.
Keep in mind, the more information that you reveal to the officer, the more information the police have to develop probable cause to make an arrest. Whatever the situation, it is best for your safety to be compliant and respectful when dealing with law enforcement, even if the police aren't doing the same in return.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in Virginia
When you are pulled over and the officer suspects the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer will likely try to gauge your sobriety using standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). These tests are not mandatory and there are no mandatory penalties for refusing to perform these highly subjective tests. Field sobriety tests include:
- One Leg Stand Test: As the name implies, the officer will likely ask you to stand on one leg and try to make a judgment on your sobriety by your ability to do so. Several conditions, including nervousness, a person's regular coordination, the weather, and other factors that have nothing to do with alcohol can affect a person's ability to perform this task.
- Horizontal Gaze Test: In this test, an officer will ask you to follow a pen or a light with your eyes. He will likely be looking for any involuntary eye movements. Many factors can affect an officer's ability to spot this such as wind and rain, or quickness of movement; additionally, no officer is an expert in ophthalmology.
- Walk and Turn Test: In this test, an officer will ask you to walk in a straight line and turn. Anyone that has tried it on their own can probably affirm that it is not as simple as it sounds, even when sober. There are many factors that could cause a driver to "fail" this test, including passing cars and lights, health issues, and improper instructions.
Virginia DUI Chemical Tests
The police may ask the driver to blow into a preliminary breath test (PBT) device. These field breath tests are not mandatory and you have the right to refuse these tests. These devices can be highly inaccurate and lead to a DUI arrest even if the driver is under the legal limit.
However, after a DUI arrest, the police may require the driver to submit to a breath or a blood test. Under Virginia's implied consent laws, you have to submit to a chemical test after a DUI arrest or face mandatory penalties. Refusing a chemical test can result in a mandatory 1-year suspended license and the driver will not be eligible for a restricted license.
Virginia Sobriety Checkpoints
Law enforcement in Virginia may sometimes set up sobriety checkpoints on the road. These are checkpoints that stop vehicles and involve brief interviews with drivers for the cops to "weed out" drunk drivers on the road. Unfortunately, even if you have had just one drink, the police may use this opportunity to put you through the full battery of questions and tests until they have probable cause to make an arrest.
Arrest and Court Process in Virginia
When you are arrested for a DUI you will most likely be taken to the police station or local jail. Your car may be towed if there is no one capable of driving your vehicle home. During an arrest, the police may book you into custody, including taking fingerprints and a mug shot. The police will also generally take away your driver's license unless you have an out of state license.
After you are arrested, it may be in your best interest to remain silent until you have had a chance to talk to your lawyer. If the police are interrogating you after an arrest, you have the right to remain silent. The less information that the officers obtain during your arrest, the better your case may be in court.
Depending on the situation, you may be held until you appear in court, or you could be released with a court date to respond to the charges against you. As soon as possible, you should consider contacting an experienced Virginia DUI defense lawyer who can explain the process and let you know how you can fight against drunk driving charges.
Defenses to Virginia DUI Charges
There are several means of defending DUI cases in Virginia. While the law seems absolute, the Commonwealth has the burden to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Some common methods of defending DUI charges include:
- Suppressing evidence: In some cases, police get information from you during your arrest or during your DUI stop in violation of your constitutional rights. These rights are crucial to our criminal justice system's notions of fairness. If your rights have been violated, your lawyer may be able to suppress the evidence so the prosecution cannot use it against you.
- Challenging chemical tests: Breath and blood chemical tests are not 100% accurate. If the machines are not properly calibrated and cleaned, or if the officer fails to take the necessary steps to ensure an accurate test, the results could falsely show a driver is over the limit.
Can I get a DUI in Virginia if I wasn't driving?
Under Virginia law, you may be charged with DUI as long as there was the possibility of you operating the vehicle. This means that things like sleeping in your car or sitting in the driver's seat with the keys in your pocket can lead to DUI charges if you are found to have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.
Virginia DUI Defense Attorney
The consequences of a DUI in Virginia can include jail time, a suspended license, and expensive fines. A traffic stop and drunk driving arrest does not mean that you are guilty. If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI in Virginia, contact attorney Thomas M. Wilson today for a free consultation.