The $2 burgers were too good a deal to pass up at Capital Ale House, so you had three. And how could you eat a burger without some accompanying beer? Sirens blare and lights flash in your rearview mirror on your way home and you immediately regret your decision to down that fourth pint. DUIs are remarkably easy to earn, but the legal proceedings that follow are confusing to say the least. FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Richmond DUI case.
Your DUI case usually begins when a Richmond police officer initiates a traffic stop. The officer will likely ask you whether you've been drinking and look for signs of intoxication. It may be a good idea to avoid admitting consuming any alcohol, because those statements could be characterized by the prosecutor as a "confession" at trial (even if you admit to drinking "just a couple beers").
If the officer still suspects you have been drinking, they will likely order you to exit your vehicle and perform a series of field sobriety tests designed to test your coordination and focus. Throughout all of this, it's very important to remain polite and cooperative. Nothing good can come from arguing, much less resisting. At the end, the officer may order you to blow into his breathalyzer to measure your blood alcohol content, or BAC. If it is above the legal limit, you will likely be arrested on the spot.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment provides many of your essential protections "against unreasonable searches and seizures" by a government agent. In many DUI cases, the big issues are whether the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion that you were committing a criminal activity, such as a traffic violation, and whether the officer thereafter had probable cause to arrest you.
These constraints on police activity are given teeth by what the law calls the exclusionary rule, which provides that any evidence gathered in violation of your constitutional guarantees might not be considered in court. You can challenge the constitutionality of the stop with a motion to suppress evidence, which puts the burden on the State to prove to a judge that all the evidence was lawfully gathered. Best case scenario -- if the initial stop was unconstitutional, your entire case could be thrown out for lack of evidence.
Driving Under the Influence
For a thorough overview of Virginia DUI law, read this brief but informative pamphlet provided by the Virginia DMV (PDF). Like many other states, Virginia defines DUI by the upper limit for acceptable BAC. If your BAC is measured at 0.08% just after you've been observed driving, you have committed a DUI offense.
Virginia has a near zero tolerance policy for minors, who can be arrested for a BAC of just 0.02%. You can also be convicted of a DUI without any BAC evidence, which would be based solely on the officer's observations of your impaired driving ability. Finally, driving under the influence of drugs carries the same penalties as an alcohol related DUI.
Breath Test Refusal
Virginia does not give its motorists the option to request a blood test instead of a breath test. Under Virginia's implied consent law, you give the State permission to order a breath test as a condition of receiving your driver's license. If you refuse to comply with an officer's request, your license will be suspended for one year automatically. Moreover, you will not be eligible for a restricted driver's license during that year. To make things worse, you could still be convicted of a DUI after a refusal, and will then have two consecutive license suspension periods.
Administrative License Suspension
The first time you blow over 0.08% in a test, your license will immediately be automatically suspended for seven days (even before trial). This becomes 60 days for your second DUI, and your license will be suspended until your trial for a third of more high BAC measurement. Conviction will, of course, carry additional suspension time.
Find a Lawyer
There is an old saying among lawyers: "he who represents himself has a fool for a client." It's not easy to evaluate the State's evidence and it takes significant expertise to file motions and conduct a trial. It might be a good idea to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Richmond DUI attorney. If you do so, you should know that defense attorneys typically work on a flat fee basis, which means they get paid for specific services, and don't rack up the dreaded "billable hours."
Depending on your income, you may qualify for the services of Richmond County Public Defender. At your first court appearance, ask the judge to refer you to their office to see if you qualify.
We've all heard that Virginia is tough on drunk drivers, but how tough? Your punishment depends on the number of prior DUIs you've suffered, and how much time has passed since then.
Your first DUI will net you about a $250 fine, a one year license revocation, but no mandatory jail time. Your second DUI will earn you a mandatory minimum jail sentence: if less than ten years have passed, ten days, if less than five years have passed, one month. Your third conviction within ten years raises the mandatory minimum sentence to 90 days; a third within five years will get you at least six months in jail. Your fourth DUI will be a felony, so you will be shipped off to prison for at least one year.
Additionally, the court may require you to install and maintain an interlock ignition device after your first offense, and will require an IID after any additional offenses.
Restricted Driver's License
If your license has been suspended, you can still apply for a restricted driver's license. This type of license allows you to drive under specific circumstances, such as to and from work, school or court ordered treatment. You will only be permitted to apply for a restricted license immediately after your first DUI conviction, but you'll have to wait a period of time after any additional convictions.
The above is some very general information about DUI cases in Richmond, so you may want to consult with a DUI attorney about the specifics of your case.