First Offense DUI in Fairfax County
A DUI charge is a scary ordeal. Anyone who has a first-time DUI charge in Virginia has not been through the process before and there is a lot to know. In most cases, the incident occurs late at night, the individual is tired, and there is a police officer who is clearly investigating. The driver is alone, has no attorney to help them at that point, and is generally not free to simply leave the scene. In addition, everything they do and say is closely monitored by a person of substantial authority.
The court process for a first-time DUI charge is likewise not a friendly situation. The police officer is there and, since they have charged the person, they are seeking a conviction. Then there is a Judge that has the power to take a person's freedom away and their driver's license. Working for the Judge is a bailiff that, if ordered by the Judge, will apprehend the person and take them to jail.
This is why a First Offense DUI requires the assistance of a DUI Lawyer because it is a charge that brings a lot to lose. There are a lot of defenses against DUI's and ways to make the court system more comfortable for the person. The reality is that a person is not guilty just because they are charged with a DUI. Even if the Commonwealth can prove their case there are many things that can be done to lessen the damage.
The Life of a Virginia DUI
The Beginning Stages
Most first-time DUI's start out innocently enough. It may be a late night happy hour with colleagues from work or a birthday celebration. The conversations flow later than expected because everyone is having a good time. The more people drink the more they feel in control and, when the time comes to leave, they believe they can make it home no problem. Indeed, no one wants to leave their car at a bar or restaurant overnight if they can avoid it. Additionally, the odds of getting stopped by the police are in their favor and they have been driving a long time and are an expert. Unfortunately, simply swerving within a lane is enough for a police officer to stop a vehicle. This driving behavior coupled with it being late at night will absolutely arouse a police officer's suspicion.
The DUI Stop
Arguably the worst thing that can happen while driving is seeing those amber lights and siren right behind you. Perhaps you were fiddling with your phone or the radio and you have no idea why you are being stopped. When the police officer approaches your window they shine a flashlight in your eyes (they are usually checking your pupils and checking out the inside of your car). They will ask where you are coming from, how much you have had to drink, and where you are going. They are listening to your speech and whether you have had anything to drink. They will be good at getting you to admit that you are coming from a bar or restaurant and that you have had a "few beers" or "drinks." After this admission, they will want to ensure you are safe to drive home.
The Field Sobriety Tests
Just to make sure you are safe to drive they will ask that you perform some "tests." Which tests they give varies among officers but most will at least hit the main three: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-and-Turn, and One-Legged Stand tests. These tests will be conducted on the side of the road or parking lot if you are stopped there. With their cruiser's lights flashing and search light directed on you, the tests will be conducted.
First, the officer will (or should) demonstrate the tests for you. They will be looking to see if you can follow directions and then check your balance during the tests. It should be noted that the HGN is not really a balancing test but is designed to see if your eyes deceive you and exhibit signs of intoxication so that the officer knows if they are on the right track (notwithstanding that an eye nystagmus can occur in people that have not consumed any alcohol at all). In any event, for the other tests, you are not told how you did after completing each of them. Rather, the officer is taking notes and writing down what you did wrong during the tests (called "clues"). After completion of the tests the officer will either let you drive home or offer a preliminary breath test to verify if there is alcohol in your blood.
The Preliminary Breath Test
The preliminary breath test ("PBT") is a hand-held device used to calculate the approximate amount of alcohol in your blood. You will be advised that you both have a right to take the test or to refuse the test. For those that take the test it is almost certainly going to lead to an arrest. You will be advised that the results cannot be used towards prosecution of your case. Once the test is given, you can expect to be arrested if the amount of alcohol detected by the device is anywhere near a .08 result.
The Arrest for a First-Time DUI
If the officer finds probable cause you will be handcuffed and your vehicle towed. You will then be taken to have your breath analyzed by a certified machine. This result will be used towards prosecution of your case. The best case scenario is that the breath result is less than .08. Assuming there is enough for a magistrate to issue a warrant, you will be booked by the jail and held overnight and, in most cases, released the next morning. A court date will be set (generally an arraignment) and it will now be up to you to find a lawyer to help you either beat the charge or to lessen the consequences of a DUI conviction.
First Offense DUI Punishment in Fairfax County
A conviction for a First Offense DUI carries a wide-range of punishments. It is a Class 1 Misdemeanor and is a criminal conviction (see §18.2-11). While not a violent offense a DUI conviction will likely appear on a background check. A first-time DUI conviction will result in the following penalties:
Blood Alcohol Level: .08 to .14
Unless there is some aggravating factor, such as an accident with injury, an individual is not likely facing an active jail time for a first offense DUI with a BAC of less than .15. This means that If the individual is convicted of a DUI or DWI with a blood alcohol level of .05, .06., 07, .08, .09, .10, .11, .12, .13, or .14, the court will generally impose a suspended jail sentence with a mandatory $250 fine. The suspended jail time would only become active jail time if the individual does not complete ASAP or picks up another charge over the course of one year. Many times people either do not attend their ASAP classes or drive outside of their restricted license hours.
In addition to suspended jail time, the court will impose an Alcohol Safety Action Program course. It should also be noted that, if ASAP finds an addiction, it may require additional treatment which will also be a requirement. It is recommend that the person regularly check-in with their probation officer so there are no misunderstandings or missteps.
There will also be a one-year loss of privilege to drive in Virginia. This is by statute and is mandatory. In most cases, a court will granted a restricted license to get to and from work, school, probation appointments, child care, and doctor's appointments. If a restricted license is granted, the court will require the installation of ignition interlock for at least six months. Ignition Interlock is an alcohol breath test machine that is installed in the vehicle's dashboard.
Finally, the individual can expect to pay a large fine. The fine for a first-time DUI conviction is generally anywhere from $250 (the minimum) to $500. It should be noted that the fine is in addition to the ASAP fee, ignition interlock costs, court costs, and any other required treatment fees if they are determined to have an addiction to alcohol by ASAP.
Blood Alcohol Level: .15 to .20
An elevated blood-alcohol level brings mandatory jail time into the picture. If the individual is convicted of a first offense DUI or DWI with a blood alcohol level of .15, .16, .17, .18, .19, or .20, the court is required to imposed a mandatory jail sentence 5 days. The court will also impose additional suspended jail time. This active jail time will be in addition to any suspended time the court imposes.
As with all DUI convictions, ASAP and a 12 month loss of privilege to drive will be imposed. If the court grants a restricted license then ignition interlock will be ordered. It should be noted ASAP may refer individuals to further treatment at this blood alcohol level.
Blood Alcohol Level .21 and Above
If the individual is convicted of a first offense DUI or DWI with a blood alcohol level of .21 or more, the court is required to impose a mandatory jail sentence of 10 days. The court will also impose additional suspended jail time. ASAP and a 12 months loss of privilege to drive will be required as will ignition interlock if a restricted license is granted. At this BAC level, there is no guarantee the court will allow a restricted license so the individual may be ordered not to drive at all. Additionally, ASAP will likely order additional alcohol treatment at this level.
The Bottom Line
If you have received a charge for a First Offense DUI in Fairfax County, please talk to an Attorney. A DUI Lawyer can help you get the charge dismissed, reduced, or minimize other consequences such as jail time. If you go to court alone, it will be just you, the arresting officer, and the Judge. As a result, you have given up control of your case when you don't have to. We are located in Fairfax near Fair Oaks Mall off Route 50 in the Harris Teeter shopping center. Give us a call for a free consultation. We can help.