Virginia toughens its breath test and commercial DUI laws

This article looks at recent changes to Virginia’s breath-test refusal and commercial DUI laws.

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, a number of new laws went into effect in Virginia earlier this year. Specifically, the state has changed its DUI laws in a number of significant ways, especially for commercial DUI and for breath-test refusals. Overall, the new laws mean that many drivers convicted of a DUI-related charge now face stiffer penalties, including mandatory minimum jail sentences and higher fines. Below is a look at what drivers should know about these changes.

Breath-test refusal laws

Virginia amended its breath- and blood-test refusal laws in response to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Birchfield v. North Dakota from last year. In that case, the top court ruled that motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test if the associated Refusal statute carries criminal penalties. The state must first obtain a search warrant before extracting blood evidence. The Fourth Amendment does not require officers to obtain a warrant prior to demanding a breath test.

As a result, on March 16, 2017 in Virginia a law went into effect that simultaneously decriminalizes blood-test refusals while increasing the penalties for breath-test refusals. Now, a second offense for refusing a breath test has been reclassified from a Class II misdemeanor to a Class I misdemeanor. That means possible jail time is now up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2500 fine, plus court costs. Furthermore, magistrates have now been instructed to prioritize warrant requests for blood withdrawals.

Mandatory minimums for commercial DUI

Drivers who are convicted of DUI while driving a commercial vehicle also face stiffer penalties as of July 1. As per the Virginia Code, for a first offense drivers face a $250 fine and, if their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is above 0.15, five days in jail or ten days for a BAC above 0.20.

Penalties rise even further for repeat offenses. A second offense that occurs within five years of the first is now subject to a $500 fine and incarceration time of between one month and one year. If the second offense was within 5 to 10 years of the first, then the penalty is $500 and one month in jail. For offenses that occur within 10 years the fine is again $500 with an additional ten days in jail if the driver's BAC is 0.15 or higher or an additional 20 days for a BAC of 0.20 or higher. A third offense within ten years is now classified as a Class 6 felony.

DUI defense

Drivers should be aware of these tough new DUI laws and of their options if they are charged. A criminal defense attorney can help those who are facing a charge of DUI, including by helping them understand what legal options are available to them. A DUI conviction can result in substantial fines, jail time, and the loss of one's license, which is why it is so important for individuals who are charged with DUI to have experienced legal counsel on their side.