Summer weather is finally here, and that means it is tourist season in Tidewater. Unfortunately, it's all too easy for summer travelers to get caught up in the festivities and find themselves facing charges for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Because DUI laws vary from state to state, visitors who are charged with DUI while traveling in Virginia may be unsure what the repercussions are or what to do after they're arrested.
Out of state DUI charges
Although every state has its own laws and penalties for DUI offenses, a majority of states have agreed to something called "reciprocity," which means that one state recognizes the laws and privileges of another state and vice versa.
Thus, an out-of-state driver who is arrested for DUI while visiting Virginia will likely find that the offense is reported to the authorities in his or her home state. Although Virginia cannot suspend a driver's license that was issued by another state, it is likely that the driver's home state will take action once notified.
What to do if stopped for DUI in Virginia
If you are stopped by police for suspected impaired driving while traveling in Virginia, it is important to stay calm, remember your rights, and exercise them. Although it may go against your instincts to remain silent, it is not only your right to do so, but it is also your best option for protecting your rights and interests.
However tempting it may be to try to explain or talk your way out of the situation when pulled over for DUI, chances are good that this will only give the police more evidence to use against you. You should provide the officer with your driver's license and registration when asked, but avoid making eye contact or engaging in any further conversation. Instead, state politely but firmly that you are exercising all of your available constitutional rights and that you are choosing to remain silent.
Refusing a sobriety test in Virginia
If you are stopped for suspected drunk driving in Virginia, you may be asked to take a field sobriety test. However, there is no penalty for refusing to take this test, and participating may help police build their case against you - therefore, you should politely decline. The same is true of a preliminary breath test, which officers may use to establish the probable cause they need to arrest you.
If you are placed under arrest during a DUI stop in Virginia, determining the best course of action becomes more complex. Virginia's implied consent law provides that anyone who is lawfully arrested with probable cause for DUI must submit to a blood or breath test. Although you still have the option of choosing not to take the test, your refusal at this point can be penalized. Depending on the circumstances, however, you may still decide that it is worth it to decline.
Weighing the options
If you refuse to provide a breath or blood sample for testing after a DUI arrest in Virginia, you will most likely be charged with both Refusal and DUI. A first-time Refusal carries a 12-month administrative license suspension without eligibility for restricted driving privileges. If you are licensed in another state, this suspension may or may not carry over to that state.
A DUI conviction, on the other hand, allows for 12 months of restricted driving privileges. However, unlike Refusal, it is also a criminal offense and can result in jail time of up to 12 months, as well as a number of other consequences including mandatory alcohol safety classes and court-ordered use of an ignition interlock device.
Seeking help from a DUI attorney
If you find yourself facing the prospect of sobriety testing after a DUI arrest in Virginia, it is up to you to decide which is preferable: a conviction for DUI or Refusal, or both. Another thing to consider is that Virginia law allows for the Refusal suspension to be dismissed if you plead guilty to the DUI charges. Thus, if you refuse alcohol testing and are facing prosecution for DUI, you should talk to a lawyer about your chances of successfully challenging the probable cause for the arrest.
Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer may advise you to plead guilty to the DUI charges and request that the Refusal suspension be dismissed. In other cases, you and your attorney may decide that it is worth the risk of challenging both the DUI and the Refusal suspension on the grounds that the arrest was not supported by probable cause.
Regardless of the exact circumstances of your arrest - and whether or not you agreed to be tested - it is always in your best interest to contact a DUI defense lawyer at your first opportunity when facing DUI charges. An attorney with experience in Virginia DUI defense will help you understand your legal options as well as their likely consequences, and can be a powerful advocate on your behalf regardless of which path you choose.