DWI in Virginia

What is a DWI in Virginia?

A DWI in Virginia occurs when a person operates a motor vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08% or more. The commonwealth of Virginia is strict on all drunk and drugged drivers, and the Code of Virginia codifies the punishments applicable to such drivers. As a “zero tolerance” state, it also clamps down hard on underage drinking and driving, even in instances where the person uses an altered, fictitious, or forged document to establish a false age and consume or purchase alcoholic beverages.

Driving under the influence of any drugs or alcohol is a serious charge in Virginia, and the state courts are on the ground to hand out punishments to persons that commit such crimes. With each subsequent conviction comes stricter penalties, in addition to having a permanent Virginia criminal record depending on the severity of the offense.

What is the Difference Between a DWI and a DUI in Virginia?

Under Virginia state DWI laws, the terms DWI and DUI are interchangeable, although these terms have different meanings in other states. DWI and DUI are abbreviations that represent the laws against dangerous driving in Virginia. The Code of Virginia refers to both terms but titles the dangerous driving statute as “Driving While Intoxicated” while the substantive text reads “...under the influence”. Thus, confusion may arise from the wordings of the rule, but a proper understanding of the law shows that both DWIs and DUIs are the same things.

Regardless of what a person may choose to call it, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious criminal charge that may result in a conviction and a permanent criminal record. Drugs under the code refer to anything from street drugs to prescription medication taken over the required dosage, provided the substance affects the ability of the person to operate a motor vehicle safely. The significant difference between both terms is that if an officer suspects a DUI, the officer has probable cause to search the person and the car for drugs. If the officer finds drugs, it may lead to extra charges for other crimes, and the officer may also draw blood for future tests.

Virginia DWI Laws

§ 18.2-266 of the Code of Virginia prohibits driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a 0.08% blood alcohol concentration or more on the public highways of the Commonwealth. It also prohibits driving under the effect of a narcotic drug, a self-administered intoxicant, or any other drug or a combination of drugs that impairs the ability of a person to drive a car, engine, or train. The code further prohibits having a blood concentration of 0.02 milligrams of cocaine, 0.1 milligrams of methamphetamine, 0.01 milligrams of phencyclidine, 0.1 milligrams of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine per liter of blood.

The zero-tolerance provision is in § 18.2-266.1, making it unlawful for a person younger than 21 to drive after consuming alcohol. If the young individual has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02% or more, but less than 0.08%, the person commits a DWI.

Traffic infractions and offenses are a violation of Title 46.2 of the Virginia Code and include speeding, driving with a taillight out, etc. § 46.2-102 empowers state police officers and law enforcement officers in every county, city, town, or other division of the Commonwealth to punish these infractions.

DWI Penalties in Virginia

The penalties for DWI offenses in the Commonwealth of Virginia depend on the category of crime. For example, § 18.2-266.1 classifies underage consumption as a Class 1 misdemeanor that attracts a one-year driver’s license forfeiture from the date of conviction, a compulsory $500 fine, or a minimum of 50 hours of community service. At the judge’s discretion, the Virginia courts may issue a restricted license during the term of license suspension, and the offender must attend an Alcoholic Safety Action Program.

§ 18.2-270 punishes driving while intoxicated, classifying it as a Class 1 misdemeanor with a mandatory fine of $250. If the offender’s BAC comes back as at least 0.15 but not more than 0.20, the offender faces an extra five days of mandatory confinement, which will increase to 10 days if the BAC returns as more than 0.20. Suppose the convicted driver had a person of 17 years or younger in the vehicle while committing the offense. In that case, it attracts an additional fine set at a minimum of $500 but must not exceed $1000 and minimum mandatory confinement of five days. § 18.2-270.1 further makes it compulsory for the offender to get a working ignition interlock device (IID) as a condition of a restricted license.

What Happens When You Get a DUI in Virginia?

The Commonwealth of Virginia does not have special laws for DUI offenses, as it merges all impaired driving offenses under the umbrella of “driving while intoxicated”. Suppose a motorist drives on a public highway in Virginia under the influence. In that case, the same punishments for a DWI under § 18.2-270 apply to such a driver to the same degree.

What Happens When You Get a DWI for the First Time in Virginia?

If a police officer or member of a sheriff's department in the Commonwealth stops a motorist on suspicion of violating any drunk driving laws, § 18.2-267 allows the officer to conduct a test on the person. The law permits the person to observe the process, breath analysis for probable alcohol content in the person’s blood. If the breath sample analysis detects alcohol in the person’s blood, the officer may charge the person with a DWI offense. It is essential to know that Virginia has an Implied Consent Law. It provides that all persons that operate on the highway, whether licensed in Virginia or not, have as a condition for driving on the roads, consented to have samples of blood, breath, or both, taken for a chemical test for alcohol and drug content within three hours of a DWI arrest.

The unreasonable refusal to undergo these tests is a civil offense under § 18.2-268.3 if it is the first violation. As a result, the court will order the suspension of the person’s driving privileges for a year, in addition to any suspension period the person will get for committing the offense in the first place. FollDUIng the refusal, § 18.2-268.4 allows for a trial and appeal to hear the warrant or summons in a court within the county where the person will face trial for the offense. The Commonwealth will then have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but if the person pleads guilty to a DWI violation, the court may dismiss the warrant or summons.

As an additional punishment, § 18.2-271.1 demands that the person participates in and completes an alcohol safety action program in the relevant judicial district, which qualifies the person for getting an ignition interlock device. However, the court may not comply with this provision if an assessment shows that the program is inappropriate. If the person enters the program, the court shall require the person to pay between $250 to $300, which goes to the State Treasurer and a fund for local administration of driver alcohol rehabilitation programs. The court may only reduce or waive this fee for a poor driver.

What is the Penalty for a Second DWI in Virginia?

Under § 18.2-270(2), getting a second DWI in Virginia within five to ten years of the first offense attracts a minimum fine of $500 and a jail term of not less than a month. Ten days of the confinement term is a mandatory minimum sentence which the offender must serve. If the second offense occurs within less than five years after the first offense, the required minimum fine is $500, and the confinement period is between one month to a year with twenty days of the confinement marked as mandatory.

Suppose the conviction for the second offense comes within ten years of the first one, and the person’s blood alcohol content shows between 0.15% to 0.20%. Such a person faces an extra mandatory ten days in jail, which will increase to twenty days if the blood alcohol level shows more than 0.20%. The resulting additional compulsory minimum fine, in this case, is $500. The license revocation period for a second offense under § 18.2-271(B) is three years, which will run consecutively with any other term of suspension. Offenders with two violations in Virginia or any other place in the United States must also pay $50 to the Trauma Center Fund, under § 18.2-270.01, to cover the cost of emergency medical care for victims of automobile accidents due to alcohol or drug use.

What Happens After a Third DWI in Virginia?

A person who commits three DWI offenses in Virginia within ten years is guilty of a Class 6 felony that attracts a mandatory minimum sentence of ninety days. Still, if the three offenses occur within five years, the sentence includes a mandatory minimum sentence of six months and a minimum $1000 fine. The court reserves the right to seizure and forfeiture of the offending vehicle. Suppose the person committed the crime while transporting a minor that is seventeen or younger. In that case, such a person gets an additional fine of $500 to $1000 and five days of mandatory minimum confinement. A third offense in Virginia also attracts an indefinite license revocation under § 18.2-271(C), and the person is not eligible for participation in any alcohol education program. § 18.2-270.01 further imposes a $50 fine on the offender to the Trauma Center Fund for emergency care for DWI accident victims.

How Long Does a DWI Stay on Your Record in Virginia?

After a Virginia court hands down a conviction, § 18.2-273 mandates the clerk or judge to report some details to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles within thirty days of the final conviction. These are the facts, name, post office, street address, and the driver’s license plate number of any vehicle the person operates. Once this report gets to the commissioner, the commissioner preserves the record and remains public for eleven years. If the person commits another DWI in Virginia within that time frame, the person becomes a second offender and gets harsher penalties. Yet, any DWI offense beyond the eleven-year lookback period is a first DWI offense in Virginia. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not allow for the expunction of DWI records.

DWI Expungement in Virginia

It is not possible to get a criminal expungement in Virginia unless the Commonwealth withdraws the charges, or if it results in an acquittal or dismissal of charges, or in cases of identity theft where an actual criminal uses the name and identification of another person, under § 19.2-392.2. The purpose of an expungement is to take the criminal charge off public criminal records and prevent private or public employers and other interested persons from seeing the arrest record. In Virginia, the only way to have a clear criminal record is to avoid a criminal conviction in the first place.

To carry out an expungement of police and court records in Virginia, the individual must first comply with the requirements in § 19.2-392.2. Then, the individual must file a petition alongside a copy of the warrant, summons, or indictment in the circuit court of the city of count where the matter arose. The law gives 21 days for the Attorney for the Commonwealth to answer the petition, file an objection, or give written notice to the court stating that there is no intention to object.

The petitioner must also get a set of fingerprints from a law enforcement agency and give the agency a copy of the petition; the law enforcement shall then submit the fingerprints to the Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE), attached to a copy of the petition. Upon receiving it, the CCRE will forward a copy of the petitioner’s criminal history, source documents, and the petitioner’s wish to erase the records and the set of fingerprints under seal to the court. After getting this information from the CCRE, the court will conduct a hearing on the petition and may order the expungement of all police, court, and electronic records that relate to the charge or deny the petition.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DWI in Virginia?

Jail time is very likely in the Commonwealth of Virginia after a first DWI because the Code of Virginia provides mandatory jail sentences for persons guilty of this crime. First offenses are misdemeanors under the Code of Virginia, and the minimum compulsory confinement term is five days if the offender has a blood alcohol content of at least 0.15%. The Virginia courts may increase the jail time depending on several factors, like an increased BAC, an underage person in the car at the time of the offense, etc.

What is the Average Cost of DWI in Virginia?

The circumstances of a DWI charge affect the average cost. A person may spend around $8000 or more to cover a DWI offense in Virginia. Legal fees and court costs run up to about $4000 or more, putting the attorney’s skill into perspective, while traffic school costs around $400, depending on the type of classes, and getting an IID costs about $70 to install. From the point of arrest and storage in a facility, the towing fees cost between $150 to $200 or more.

How Much is Bail for a DWI in Virginia?

A first DWI offense in the Commonwealth of Virginia may lead to the offender staying in jail for a short time, and such an offender will have to pay bail to get out early. The average bail costs for a first DWI is $150, which varies depending on the judge’s discretion, circumstances of the case, etc.

How to Get My License Back After a DWI in Virginia?

A driver’s license revocation in Virginia is a total termination of driving privileges within the state. In Virginia, a person may get a revoked license for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, committing voluntary or involuntary manslaughter that results from operating a motor vehicle, etc. Reinstating the license depends on the specific criminal charges and penalties, the number of prior DWI convictions the driver has, and if the driver has outstanding criminal charges. The motorist must first comply with the court’s requirements for reinstatement before applying to obtain a driver’s license. These reinstatement requirements depend on the individual circumstances, and according to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), some of them are:

Once a driver completes all the required steps that apply to the specific offense, the person may request a personal Driver Transcript and a Compliance Summary to get particular reinstatement requirements.

How Does a DWI Affect Your Life in Virginia?

One bad driving mistake in Virginia can result in permanent consequences for the convicted driver. The effects of a DWI include fines, jail times, license suspension, and other long-lasting results that can follow the person, even after the person serves a criminal sentence. First, the conviction leaves a mark on the person’s driving records and will impact insurance rates for many years, as convicted drivers need special coverage to drive again in Virginia. It also appears on the individual’s criminal record forever; law enforcement can use this criminal record against the person if the person commits another offense, like a second DWI.

Private organizations and government agencies in Virginia may also conduct background research on the person for security clearance, immigration, housing, or employment applications.

Can You Get Fired for a DWI in Virginia?

Yes, a DWI conviction in Virginia can result in the termination of employment because the Commonwealth of Virginia is an “at-will employment state,” which allows employers to fire employees at any time unless the employment contract says otherwise. However, employers cannot fire employees for discriminatory reasons like age, race, political affiliation, religion, etc. A DWI conviction does not count as discrimination, so termination on this ground is legal.

Yet, this does not mean that having a DWI conviction will result in automatic termination, as there are many factors to consider. Some of these factors are the employer’s view on DWIs, the line of work if the conviction comes with incarceration, etc. Certain lines of work frown upon dangerous driving, and it may lead to harsh consequences for persons that work in education, healthcare, cab drivers, etc. In the end, it boils down to the employer in question and how the person feels about the affected employee.

How Do I Find DWI Checkpoints in Virginia?

DWI or sobriety checkpoints in Virginia are legal stops set up to catch drivers violating traffic laws or operating a vehicle under the influence or other impairment. These stops must follow specific guidelines, like having well-trained officers, using proper discretion, and being in safe conditions to protect the rights and safety of drivers on the road. If a sobriety checkpoint does not meet any of the required guidelines, a motorist may challenge its validity in the courts.

Police officers are to make an advance public notification of a sobriety checkpoint through newspapers, local television stations, or the police department website. Interested persons may find DWI checkpoints in the “news” section of the local police department websites or any local news outlets in Virginia.

Which is Worse, DWI vs. DUI?

Many states regard a DWI as a less severe offense than a DUI, but it is not the case in Virginia. A DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” DWI is short for “driving while intoxicated”. Virginia DWI laws classify both offenses as serious, and offenders face the same penalties. The severity of a DUI or DWI offense in Virginia depends on the circumstances of the case. Courts also and the number of prior convictions that the person has.