Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "Spirituous liquors are not in themselves bad ... it is the improper and intemperate use of them ... which makes them injurious." That statement was true when Jefferson wrote it in 1802, and it remains true after a long night out in Virginia Beach. But from time to time, even the best of us make mistakes.
If you've made the unfortunate mistake of drinking and driving in Virginia Beach, be happy if no one got hurt. Also, be glad because an arrest or a conviction does not have to ruin your life. This guide will give you the information you need in order to understand the criminal and administrative procedures ahead. This guide will also offer some guidance on getting your driving privileges back, and getting back to having a good and safe time in Hampton Roads.
"Under the Influence"
The basic law in Virginia Beach is the same as anywhere else in the country: drivers may not drive while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As with everywhere else, you are considered "under the influence" if you have a blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") of 0.08 or greater. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles also explains that even if your BAC is below 0.08, you may still be found guilty of violating the law if it appears that alcohol or drugs have impaired your driving.
Some statutes refer to crime as driving while intoxicated (see Virginia Code section 18.2-266) while other materials refer to the crime as driving under the influence (see Virginia is Tough on Drunk and Drugged Drivers). These laws are talking about the same prohibited behavior.
Possible Punishments and Consequences
When a person is convicted of a DUI offense, he or she will face several criminal punishments and civil consequences.
After a first conviction, a Class 1 misdemeanor, a driver can expect a minimum $250 fine. The law does not provide a minimum jail sentence for first time offenders unless one has a BAC at or above 0.15. If you have such an extremely high BAC, you may face a minimum of five or ten days of jail depending on your measured BAC. The maximum sentence may include a year in jail and/or a fine of $2,500.
In most cases, a second DUI offense will also be a misdemeanor. This means that the maximum penalty will remain the same, but the minimum fine and jail sentence will increase. A third or subsequent offense is charged as a felony. See Virginia Code section 18.2-270 for more details on DUI criminal punishments.
Administrative License Suspension
If you've been arrested for a DUI offense, your license will automatically be suspended: 7 days for first time offenders. You could face a suspension up until the time of trial for second and subsequent DUI arrests. You may appeal the suspension, but will regain your license only if you can show that the arresting officer didn't have "probable cause" for an arrest or if there was some other defect in the process. This is a complex area of law, so you should consult an attorney if you feel that your license should not be suspended.
Restricted License and Ignition Interlock System
If you are actually convicted, as opposed to being merely arrested, for a DUI offense, your license will again be suspended for at least one year. You may, however, ask the court for a restricted license. Often, the court will require you to show why you need a restricted license for work, school, family reasons, or whatever purpose the court considers.
The court will likely also require a driver with a restricted license to install an ignition interlock system. A device will prevent your car from starting if your BAC is above 0.02. You will be responsible for all expenses related to the device, and you'll have to pay an administrative fee. The device must remain installed for at least six months, but not longer than the period of suspension.
Probation, Education, and Rehabilitation
Many drivers convicted of a DUI offense can expect to be placed on probation. Most will have to complete an alcohol safety course and pay between $250 and $300 for related services. Before you can reinstate your license, you will have to (1) pay all fines and fees, (2) complete the safety course, and (3) serve your suspension time.
With all of the difficulties that follow a DUI arrest and conviction, you might be tempted to refuse a blood alcohol test in the future. Before you do so, know the consequences. A first time-refuser will receive a one year license suspension. Be advised, however, that you can still be convicted of DUI, and then you will face both the refusal penalty and the DUI penalty. There are extra consequences if you have prior DUIs and test refusals on your record.
So rather than refusing a test, you should refuse to drink and drive.