DUI Penalties in Louisa, VA
If you were arrested for a DUI in Louisa, VA, you will be expected to appear in the Louisa General District Court for a 1st appearance, typically a week or so after your arrest date.
Virginia Code Section 18.2-266 (ii) is Virginia's DUI law. This law makes it unlawful to drive or operate a motor vehicle while "under the influence of alcohol."
A person is "under the influence of alcohol" when that person has consumed a sufficient amount of alcohol to "so affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior, as to be apparent to observation."
There is no requirement under this subsection of the DUI statute that the driver operating the motor vehicle be doing so with a BAC of .08% for more. With respect to intoxication, the Commonwealth need only prove that the "quantity of alcohol consumed by the automobile driver, even though not enough to cause legal intoxication, [was] sufficient to impair his capacity to perceive dangers with clarity, make decisions with prudence, and operate [the] vehicle with [the] skill and caution required by law."
Therefore, in Virginia, a driver or operator of a motor vehicle can be prosecuted under the DUI statute even where his BAC level was below .08%.
In Virginia a first and a second DUI are misdemeanor offenses, however, a third DUI will be prosecuted as a felony if the prior DUI offense was committed within 10 years the current offense. The penalties for a DUI conviction result in jail time, license suspensions, ignition interlock requirements, and completion of VASAP courses.
A DUI, even for a first offense, is a serious matter in Louisa, Virginia. The maximum penalties are very severe and although rarely ever imposed, allow for one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2500. While those maximum penalties are uncommon, there are minimum penalties which are very commonly imposed, and which still result in active jail time and a license suspension of 12 months. This is true whether you are a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia or are from out-of-state.
Because DUI charges in these jurisdictions carry the possibility of jail time, you must appear in court to be advised of your right to counsel. This occurs at the first appearance.
For a first DUI conviction, Virginia law requires mandatory jail time if the defendants BAC was found to be .15 or greater and the law provides for additional mandatory jail time where the drivers BAC was found to be greater than .20. The judge has no discretion to work around these mandatory punishments leading to jail time if this is evidence submitted before the court.
The maximum penalty for a DUI 1st in Virginia is $2500 but, typically, in most courts the fine is about $250 to $350, but this fine may increase in cases involving higher BAC's.
The driver can also expect to pay hundreds more dollars in costs related to probation and installation and maintenance of the required ignition interlock device.
First DUI in Louisa, VA
- Maximum fine of $2,500 and 1 year in jail
- Mandatory minimum fine of $250
- If BAC .15 or greater = 5 days in jail
- .20 or greater = 10 days in jail
- 7 day administrative license suspension
- 12 month license suspension by the court
- If requesting a restricted license, ignition interlock required § 18.2-270.1 for 6 months
- Completion of a VASAP course
Second DUI within 5 years in Louisa, VA
While all DUIs Virginia are serious, certainly a second DUI in Louisa carries serious penalties. There is mandatory jail time, which in some instances can be substantial, license suspension where there is no option for a restricted license in certain cases, and higher fines and costs. It is important to act to ensure that you are in the best position to protect your future.
In Louisa County, Virginia, for a DUI 2nd within 5 years, the driver will lose his privilege to drive in Virginia for three years and will also be subject to an ignition interlock requirement for the entirety of that three year license suspension. Perhaps the most significant penalty for a DUI second in Virginia is that the driver will not be eligible for a restricted driver's license in Virginia for an entire year if the prior offense was committed within five years of the current offense. There is also a mandatory $500 fine and the driver can expect to incur hundreds more dollars and costs associated with the Ignition interlock requirements.
- Maximum fine of $2,500 fine
- $500 minimum fine
- 20 day mandatory minimum jail sentence
- Additional 10 day jail sentence if BAC greater than or equal to .15
- Additional 20 day jail sentence if BAC greater than .20
- Restricted license eligible after 1 year § 18.2-271.1(E)
- Iginition interlock required for 6 months to 3 years
- License suspension for 3 years by DMV § 46.2-391(A)
Third DUI within 10 years in Louisa, VA
All DUI convictions in Louisa are serious, but naturally a third DUI conviction will be even more severe than a first or second conviction would be.
A third DUI in Virginia is a class VI felony and requires one to five years in prison. There is a 6 month mandatory minimum period of incarceration for a DUI third within 5 years, and a 90 day mandatory minimum period for a DUI third within 10 years.
A DUI third within five years is a class VI felony and carries 1 to 5 years in prison or up to one year in jail plus a $2500 fine in Louisa, VA. Furthermore many judges will not grant a defendant facing a DUI third charge bond and that defendant can expect to be held it in custody at the jail during the pendency of his case.
Perhaps the most significant negative consequence of a conviction for a DUI third is that the defendant will lose his privilege to drive in Virginia indefinitely. In order to regain his privilege to drive the driver must petition the Circuit Court, and may not simply request a license from the DMV after having completed a pre-set license suspension period. After three years a driver may petition the court for a restricted license but the requirements to obtain this license are substantial. The defendant's vehicle will also be subject to forfeiture. There is also a six month ignition interlock requirement that must be completed upon restoration of a drivers license.
- Class 6 felony conviction
- $1000 fine
- 90 day mandatory minimum jail time
- Not eligible for restricted license
- May petition for restricted license 3 years after date of conviction. Limited to driving to and from work and in course of employment
- Ignition interlock required at least 6 months upon restoration of license or with a restricted license during time of suspension
- License suspended indefinitely but may petition after 5 years
- Vehicle forfeiture
Ways to Fight a DUI Conviction in Louisa
There may be a reasonable basis for challenging just about all of the evidence presented by the prosecutor. This includes challenging
- Unlawful traffic stops
- Illegal searches/seizures
- Improper field sobriety tests
- Inaccurate breath and blood tests
- False-positive BAC levels
- Non-alcohol related reasons for appearing impaired
There are two primary ways your Virginia DUI defense lawyer can challenge the prosecutor's evidence in a criminal court case. This includes filing pre-trial motions to keep improper evidence out of court and by presenting their case to the judge or jury.
A motion to suppress is a request to exclude certain evidence from trial. If the motion is successful, a judge will not consider this evidence against the defendant or in a jury trial, the jury may never even see the evidence. In some cases, when the prosecutor's evidence is suppressed, they may have no case to prosecute and the charges will be dropped. When this happens, the defendant can win without even going to trial.
Unlawful Traffic Stops in Louisa
It may seem like the police will pull someone over for no reason at all. However, legally, the police need reasonable suspicion to pull you over. The police need some articulable reason to believe that you are doing something unlawful. If the police do not have reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, then any evidence gathered from an illegal stop may be able to be suppressed.
However, reasonable suspicion to stop the car does not have to be based on a reason to think the driver is intoxicated. The police can stop a car for even a minor traffic violation. During that stop, the police may then suspect the driver may be intoxicated. Many DUI arrests are based on initial stops for something like driving without headlights turned on, a broken tail light, or improper lane change.
If the police pull you over without reasonable suspicion that you were doing anything illegal, your lawyer may be able to suppress any evidence gathered after that illegal stop. This includes observations that the driver smelled of alcohol, breathalyzer tests, or field sobriety tests. Without this evidence, the prosecutor may have no case.
Illegal Search & Seizure
Even if the police have probable cause to make a traffic stop, it does not give them full access to search whatever they want. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides certain protections against unreasonable search and seizure by the government.
Before the police can search your vehicle, they must have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains some evidence of criminal activity. Even then, the police are generally limited to searching those areas of the vehicle. If the police do not have probable cause to search the vehicle, then any evidence the police gather may have been in violation of the individual's constitutional rights and that evidence should be suppressed.
There are some exceptions to the laws against illegal search and seizure. If the police see evidence of illegal activity through the windows of the car, that may fall under the plain view exception. For example, the police stop a driver for failing to make a complete stop at a stop sign. The officer then sees a beer can sticking out from under the passenger seat. Because the can was in plain view, that evidence may be admissible.
Another common exception is where the driver gives the police consent to search the car. Many drivers feel pressured into allowing the police to search them or their vehicle. They may even make it sound like things will go easier for them if they consent to a search. However, by consenting to a search, you may be giving up your right to challenge the illegal search when you have your day in court.
If the police pull you over for a traffic stop and there is no other evidence of illegal activity, it may be difficult for a police officer to claim that he or she had probable cause to search the vehicle. If the police search the vehicle in violation of your rights and find alcohol or drugs, your attorney may be able to suppress the evidence in your DUI (or drug possession or underage alcohol possession case).
Improper Field Sobriety Testing in Louisa
Most people are familiar with field sobriety tests from watching cop shows. These are the roadside tests law enforcement officers conduct to evaluate a driver's impairment. There are three so-called standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). However, these tests can be highly inaccurate.
Field sobriety tests rely on the police giving proper instructions and the police officer's subjective observations. They can also be compromised by environmental factors, like speeding traffic, flashing lights in the subject's eyes, and the stress of standing on the side of the highway like a criminal.
There are also a number of reasons why someone may “fail” these tests that have nothing to do with alcohol or drugs. Age, physical ability, weight, type of shoes, medical conditions, and other factors can all make it more difficult or even impossible to complete these tests to the police officer's satisfaction.
The One-Leg-Stand test requires the suspect to raise one leg approximately six inches off the ground, with the foot pointed out, and while holding the position, count out loud until told to stop.
Moving their arms to keep balance, touching the foot to the ground, stopping counting, looking up, or falling over may all be reasons why the police officer thinks the test shows the driver is impaired.
The walk-and-turn test instructions generally include walking heel-to-toe along a straight line for nine steps. Then turning and returning heel-to-toe, counting the steps out loud.
Losing balance, failing to count out loud, stepping off the line, turning too soon or too late, or starting too early may be considered a failed test.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (Eye Test)
The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test is an eye test where the officer asks the individual to follow a pen, light, or finger back and forth with their eyes. Many drivers end up performing this test without even realizing it is part of the roadside field sobriety tests.
With the HGN test, the officer is looking for an involuntary movement of the eye that can occur when the driver is impaired by alcohol or other substances. This requires the officer to observe specific smoothness of the movement, angle of onset, and maximum deviation.
SFST Training and Instructions in Virginia DUIs
All these tests are also as much about following instructions as completing the task. The officer generally says not to begin until the individual is told to do so. The police officer then gives the instructions and finally says to begin the test. If you start the test early or forget part of the instructions, that may be considered a failed test.
It is not uncommon to start the test early or forget all the instructions. This does not necessarily mean the driver is drunk, only that they are nervous. It is not against the law to be nervous when the police pull you over and have you perform tests on the side of a busy road. However, that may be the reason the officer says you “failed” the field sobriety tests.
These tests are also based on the officers giving the full instructions, the correct instructions, and properly observing the test. When an officer forgets to give part of the instructions, the driver can “fail” through no fault of their own. Similarly, if an officer moves the pen too quickly on an eye test or doesn't estimate the right angle of eye movement, the driver could “fail” the test even when completely sober.
Inaccurate Breath and Blood Tests in Virginia DUI Cases
Breath and blood chemical tests are not always accurate. These tests rely on the machines being properly cleaned and calibrated. To be accurate, these tests also have to be properly administered and observed. Other problems can be caused by outside factors or the individual's own body chemistry and medical conditions.
Using a breath test machine to measure an individual's blood alcohol content (BAC) requires the officer observe the individual for a certain amount of time. It also requires regular maintenance of the machine and calibration. When using a blood test, contamination of the blood sample or mixing up samples could show a driver with drugs in their system or a BAC over the limit even if the driver has not consumed any alcohol or drugs. Even a minor error could bump a driver up from a 0.07% BAC to an over-the-limit 0.08% BAC.
Your DUI defense lawyer can subpoena the police equipment records to check for maintenance and calibration. Your attorney can also review police records to find any evidence that the officer's were not following the rules. Your attorney can also present evidence of the inaccuracies of these tests to the jury in your defense.
False-Positive BAC Levels
There are a number of reasons why a breath or blood test could show a driver had a BAC over the limit or drugs in their system that is unrelated to drinking or taking drugs. This may include using mouthwash or an inhaler shortly before a test or eating certain foods. Some medical conditions, like acid reflux or GERD, may also cause elevated mouth alcohol levels that make it seem like the driver has a higher BAC.
Non-Alcohol Related Reasons for Appearing Impaired
Medical conditions or disabilities can also make a driver appear impaired to a police officer looking for drunk drivers. Even temporary issues, like allergies, physical exertion, the flu, or simply being tired can be identified as signs of impairment to the police. Any of these non-alcohol related reasons may cause
- Slurred speech,
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Poor balance, or
- Difficulty concentrating on instructions.
Court Process After a DUI Arrest in Louisa
An arrest for driving under the influence in Virginia is often someone's first experience with the criminal justice system. Many people base their understanding of the court system on what they see in courtroom dramas and in the movies. The reality of a criminal case is not like TV. Things move very quickly and anyone accused of a crime should seek assistance from an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help them through the process.
A Virginia criminal defense attorney will show up for you in court, explain your options, investigate your case, and fight to keep a criminal conviction off your record. After reviewing this page on the court process after a Virginia DUI arrest, contact Charlottesville attorney Thomas M. Wilson with any questions about your case.
Chemical Test and Booking
Once the police take you into custody to be taken to jail, nothing you say will likely change the officer's mind. The officer will take you to the police department or sheriff's office to complete the arrest and booking procedure. This generally involves getting a chemical test, usually a breath test for an alcohol DUI. This chemical breath test can be used as evidence against the individual in a DUI case.
You will then have to appear before a magistrate judge. The officer will provide information about the traffic stop and the arrest. The magistrate may decide to release you on your own recognizance or keep you in jail.
If the court will not release you, the court may hold (or you may have to request) a bond hearing. The bond hearing will determine what amount has to be put up to release you. Most first-time DUI arrest suspects do not pose a serious flight risk or risk to the public's safety.
Bond can be unsecured (without the need to put up money or collateral), or a secured bond. If you or your family has the money to post a cash bond, that should secure your release. Otherwise, your family may have to pay a bail bonds company, usually amounting to 10% of the bond.
When Should You Contact a DUI Lawyer?
When you are arrested for a DUI, you should contact a DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Even while you're being booked into jail, your family should consider contacting an attorney to help get you released as soon as possible. The earlier you contact a lawyer, the more time your lawyer will have to investigate your claim and build your case.
DUI Arraignment and Formal Charges
An arraignment is the process of reading the formal charges against a defendant. If you have an attorney, you may not have to show up for an arraignment and the arraignment can generally be waived for a DUI case.
If you do not hire an attorney, you will have to appear for the arraignment. The court will advise you of the DUI charges against you, the right to have an attorney, and the date of the upcoming trial.
The court may advise you that you have the right to an attorney if you cannot afford one. However, this does not mean that everyone gets a lawyer. You may have to prove to the court that you cannot afford a lawyer, which may require showing that you are below a certain income level or do not have enough financial resources.
Plea Bargain Process
After the arraignment, the next process in your court case will generally involve talking to the prosecutor. Depending on the strength of your case, it may be in your best interest to take a plea deal. The prosecutor may offer to drop some charges, reduce charges, or ask for a lighter sentence in exchange for you agreeing to plead guilty.
In some cases, the prosecutor will try and bring as many criminal charges as possible. The purpose is to use these extra charges as bargaining chips to get you to agree to a deal.
Taking Your DUI Case to Trial in Louisa
Many criminal cases are settled before they get to trial. It can take a long time to get a case to trial and the trial itself may take a lot of time. However, a jury trial or bench trial may be the only way to contest criminal charges.
In felony DUI cases, before a trial starts, your attorney may file pretrial motions. These are legal issues that the judge will address before the case goes before a jury. This often involves a motion to suppress evidence. If the police violated your rights during the traffic stop or arrest, the prosecutor should not be able to use that illegally gained evidence in court. A motion to suppress evidence will keep that evidence out of court.
In jury cases, after pretrial motions, the court will select the jury, trying to eliminate jurors who cannot be impartial. The case will then be presented to the jury, with the prosecutor then defense attorney presenting their side of the case. This will include introducing evidence, presenting testimony, and expert witnesses. Each side will also have the chance to respond.
After presenting final arguments, the jury will convene to come to a decision on whether you are guilty or not guilty of each of the charges. This may be the end of the court process if the jury comes back with a not-guilty verdict. If the jury finds you guilty, you may be able to file an appeal.