When it comes to trouble with the law, knowing what to expect helps to keep the “what if…” questions at bay and reduce your overall stress concerning the entire process. That being said, when facing charges in Prince William County for a DUI, the first thing to know is what it means to be driving while intoxicated in the context of the law. Under the Code of Virginia, a person is considered driving under the influence of Alcohol if they operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Depending on the number of prior convictions for the same offense, a DUI may be considered as minor as a Class 1 misdemeanor or as severe as a Class 6 felony. As such, there is a wide range of penalties for a DUI, including fines, restricted licenses, enrollment in an alcohol safety program, installation of an ignition interlock device, jail time, or any combination of these.
Now that you have a solid understanding of the charge itself, the importance of knowing what to expect when it comes to the initial stop, the arrest, and the court process cannot be understated. Such knowledge will better prepare you for how to interact with law enforcement, ensure that your rights are not being violated, and help you to spot any peculiarities that may aid your attorney in their representation of your DUI.
In Prince William County and throughout the United States, a law enforcement officer can initiate a traffic stop if there is a reasonable suspicion that a traffic law is violated. With regard to a DUI, this means that an individual may be pulled over because (a) the officer initially observes signs of impairment, such as erratic driving, or (b) in the process of investigating some other traffic violation, the officer observes signs that the driver is impaired, such as glassy eyes, the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and so on.
During the stop, the officer will likely begin to ask you an assortment of questions related to your consumption of alcohol. These may include inquiries into where you are driving from, your driving destination, if you have had anything to drink, and if so, how much, etc. Answering these questions is optional. However, interactions with the officer should remain polite and respectful, as it may be to your advantage later on throughout the stop as well as in the court process. Also optional are the field sobriety tests the officer will ask you to perform. Note that even if you refuse to answer any questions and refuse perform the field sobriety tests, if the officer still believes you to be intoxicated, you may be placed under arrest.
As you are being arrested, the law enforcement officer must read you your Miranda rights. If this is not done, stay quiet and make sure to notify your attorney during the initial case consultation. The officer will then transport you to the police station whereby you will be told to take a breathalyzer test. In most DUI investigations, this is not an optional test. By virtue of what is called “implied consent, if you travel on the highways of Virginia you agree to undergo this testing if probable cause exists that you are under the influence.
If you decline to take the breath test at the station, you may face an additional charge of refusal. Finally, the officer will then book you into custody, which will include taking your personal information.
Eventually, you will appear before a magistrate whereby the officer will relay what happened and the magistrate will decide to either release you on your own recognizance or keep you detained. If you remain in custody, in Prince William County you will appear before a judge in the General District Court who will review your case and determine if you should be released on bond.
For most DUI offenses in Prince William County, the magistrate or the Court will allow you out on bond. If you are a repeat offender however, then it is more likely you will be held. If you are held, you or your attorney may request a bond hearing so that the court can get more information on whether you are flight risk or a danger to the community. If you are held, it is highly recommended that you or a loved one consult an attorney as soon as possible to help handle your case.
The Court Process
Resolving a DUI is most often done by either going to trial or entering into a plea agreement. DUI trials are held in the General District Court and are brought before a judge, not a jury. Juries are only available in the Circuit Court. At trial each side is given an opportunity to present its own evidence via documents, witnesses, and experts. Additionally, each side may challenge the other’s evidence.
You will hear that an overwhelming majority of cases are resolved with plea agreements. These agreements are a result of both parties seeking a resolution they can live with based on the various strength and weaknesses of their respective cases. Defense counsel may find an issue with the stop or arrest which may provide a basis to dismiss the charges against their client. The emphasis on may is there because every scenario is fact specific and as a result often could be ruled on differently depending on how it is argued and which judge is presiding. This uncertainty leads both sides to come to the table and negotiate what they believe to be a fair result. This will often result in a reduced charges or additional charges being dismissed. Sometimes, a DUI will be reduced to a reckless driving or an elevated blood alcohol level case will be reduced to a standard first offense .
When presented with the option of either accepting a plea bargain or going to trial, an attorney will work with you to figure out which option would best suit your particular circumstances.
Hopefully we have helped to reduce some of your worries now that you know more about what it means to be charged with driving while intoxicated in Prince William County. If you have any questions, we absolutely recommend that you reach out to us or another attorney to review your case’s facts and circumstances for guidance on your best path forward.