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What to Expect After Being Charged with a DUI/DWI
If you are charged with a DUI | DWI offense in Northern Virginia, dispositions can vary between the various cities and counties. Hiring a lawyer can add a small amount of certainty to your situation. An attorney analyzing your case is going to assess the probability of successful negotiations with the prosecutor, likely offers, and the degree of risk in going to trial.
The process starts with negotiations. In this process, while we would all like to think the prosecutor will drop the charges after talking to your lawyer, the reality is that only happens in very extreme circumstances. Usually, if a prosecutor moves to nolle prosequi (not prosecute) your case, it is because there is an obvious legal hurdle that they know they can not overcome (they are going to lose and they know it). On every other case, they are going to try and get something out of it.
Reductions to Reckless Driving are usually favorable outcomes that most individuals charged with DUI | DWI will accept because the stigma associated with this reduction is much less than having been convicted of a DUI | DWI. It’s important to note that a conviction of Reckless Driving is still a criminal misdemeanor conviction. The important difference is it is not a crime involving alcohol and the license suspension that could be associated with it is only 6 months (vis-a-vis a year). Further, ignition interlock is not REQUIRED on a conviction of Reckless Driving although, you can choose a restricted license that allows you to drive wherever you wish conditioned on having a functioning ignition interlock system..
Different Commonwealth Attorneys Offices have different guidelines, if they have any at all, for reducing a DUI | DWI charge to reckless driving. When your BAC is a .08 or .09, your chances of getting a reduction to reckless driving are better than most but it is still a challenge for a lawyer to get this reduction. A reduction from DUI | DWI to Reckless Driving is usually based on a combination of factors from the prosecutor’s perspective regarding the legal issues in the case, your BAC, the probability of prevailing on the charge, the likelihood of you re-offending, and equitable factors personal to you (your job, consequences of a DUI | DWI, mitigation).
In the end, a reduction to Reckless Driving is truly a phenomenal disposition but is not frequently given by prosecutors. In some jurisdictions, like Loudoun County and Stafford County, the prosecutors would rather lose the .08 DUI | DWI than reduce it Reckless Driving. While this theory may seem counterintuitive, it is based on the very real reality that the prosecutor, while having a duty to do justice, is an advocate for the state. The head prosecutor is an elected official and has to answer to the electorate. Read this news article for a deeper understanding of why reducing a charge to reckless driving is a big deal for a prosecutor.
Regardless of whether or not the charge gets reduced to reckless driving, a typical disposition in a first offense DUI | DWI in Virginia, without an elevated BAC (> .15) usually looks as follows.
- An all suspended jail sentence (usually from 30 – 180 days).
- A fine of $300 (some jurisdictions will suspend a portion of the fine (e.g. $1500 with $1200 suspended or $600 with $300 suspended).
- 1 year loss of license (Restricted license conditioned on installing ignition interlock).
- The suspended portion of the jail is conditioned on you enrolling in and successfully completing the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP),violating no laws, and being of general good behavior (essentially, doing what VASAP tells you to do and not getting in any further trouble).
Suspended jail time essentially means probation (supervised or unsupervised). This is jail time that is hanging over your head and should you violate any of the terms of your probation or not complete the programs you have been ordered to complete, then you may be called back into court to show cause why you should not have to serve all or a portion of this jail time. The jail time is typically suspended for 12 months (period of probation); however, some jurisdictions do 24 months a matter of course. Specific Virginia Laws limit the amount of time that can be suspended but because the VASAP program may take more than 12 months to complete, some jurisdictions extend the good behavior period to cover this possibility.
The concept of a suspended fine is similar to the suspended jail time. If you are successful on probation, you will not have to pay the suspended portion of the fine; however, if you violate, the judge could order you to pay that suspended portion.
On a first offense DWI | DUI where the BAC was less than a .15 the judge has the discretion to issue a ignition interlock only restricted license. This means that you are permitted to drive anywhere provided you have a functioning ignition interlock system for 12 months. (There is also a provision for a interlock only restricted license for six months on DWI cases reduced to Reckless Driving) Most lawyers refer to this as the ‘unrestricted restricted license” because your driving is not restricted except for having the ignition interlock system installed.
In all other cases, a judge may authorize a restricted license to allow you to drive to and from your primary employment and any secondary employment you may have. The judge can also allow you to drive during work hours (if required by your employer),to and from medical appointments for you and your family members, to and from programs required by the court (including VASAP),to and from a place of worship one time a week, and to and from your child’s school and/or daycare provider. AS A CONDITION OF A RESTRICTED LICENSE AUTHORIZED IN VIRGINIA DUI | DWI CASES THE JUDGE MUST ORDER THE INSTALLATION OF AN IGNITION INTERLOCK DEVICE FOR A MINIMUM OF 6 MONTHS. After the 6 month time period has expired, you may have to petition the court for removal of the device (usually requires VASAP approval).
VASAP (Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program)
For the typical first offender, VASAP is a 20-hour 10-week program which focuses on substance abuse treatment and education. The education aspect of the treatment includes random testing for alcohol/drugs. VASAP can also order an offender who is at a particularly high risk of substance abuse to attend an additional treatment through an ASAM certified provider. In addition to education, VASAP is authorized to refer a person for treatment, if necessary. Read more about VASAP.
Usually, all supervision of other conditions are accomplished through the VASAP program; however, the court may put you on active supervision through the local community based probation department (Adult Court Services, Community Corrections, Local Offenders Program, etc).
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“After receiving a Reckless Driving summons in Fairfax, VA, I contacted a number of lawyers. I found my conversation with Dischley Law to be the most helpful and comforting.”- R.M.
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