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Norfolk Felony DUI Charges

In Norfolk and throughout the rest of Virginia there are a number of different ways in which a DUI charge can become a felony offense. Below, a Norfolk DUI lawyer discusses what these factors are and the steps you should take if accused. To learn more, call and schedule a consultation today.

How a DUI Becomes a Felony

If the DUI is a third offense within ten years or less, then typically it is charged as a felony. That is really the most common way that a DUI becomes a felony. Another less common way is if the incident in question was more serious than just someone driving under the influence, such as if there were significant injuries caused to someone as a result of the person’s drunk driving.

Differences in Case Process for Felony DUI Cases

The court process for felonies, in general, is different from that of misdemeanors. Felonies begin in general district court with a preliminary hearing. This is a hearing that happens before a trial is even scheduled, in which the Commonwealth has to demonstrate that there is enough probable cause to show that a felony was committed and that the person charged was the offender.

If the judge determines that the Commonwealth has met this burden, which is a pretty low standard, then the DUI is certified to the grand jury and the matter is heard in circuit court at a trial. In circuit court, there is the option of having a judge or a jury hear the case.

This is different from a misdemeanor DUI case because misdemeanors don’t have preliminary hearings at all and instead they skip straight to a trial, but it is in general district court. In misdemeanors, the DUIs are held in front of a judge at a bench trial.  If convicted in the general district court, the defendant has a right to appeal to the circuit court where the case will be heard by a judge or a jury.

Impact of an Experienced Lawyer

Felony cases come with really harsh potential penalties, which include a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 90 days if the offense is within ten years, and up to six months if the offense is within five years plus a minimum fine of $1000. A felony conviction can also have really dire consequences on someone’s future such as affecting their ability to vote, the right to own a firearm, and access to loans and housing

There are also a lot of careers that will be completely out of the question to a convicted felon. It’s really important for these reasons to have an experienced attorney because the stakes are really high. Felony cases are harder for the defense because there is a lot less room for negotiation than there would be on a first or second offense DUI. The Commonwealth does not have a lot of leniency for someone who is charged again after two prior incidents.

They generally will see it as someone with an alcohol problem who needs stronger consequences than they were given before, since what happened the first two times wasn’t enough to teach them a lesson. Without having some kind of flaw in the felony case, it’s really hard to have a felony DUI dismissed and it’s also really hard to negotiate it down to anything better.

First Steps to Take in a Felony DUI Case

In general, felony cases are handled the same as misdemeanor cases in terms of the content of the case itself. The facts are analyzed the same, and the machine readings are looked at the same. The main difference in the third offense is that the first two convictions are analyzed as well, because if there is a reason to have one of the first two convictions removed as invalid, then the current charge, the felony, becomes a lot more manageable because it turns into a misdemeanor.

The first two offenses are analyzed to see whether procedure was followed properly, whether the defendant had a defense attorney or waived their right, and anything else that may have an effect on whether the conviction is valid.