Fairfax DUI Lawyer
It is no secret that driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs can lead to serious consequences. Most people facing DUI charges had no intention of getting caught up in the criminal justice system. However, that may be exactly what happens if you are accused of driving under the influence in Virginia.
Working with a Fairfax DUI lawyer who understands the various aspects of defending against these serious criminal charges can be an important part of facing these types of charges. By getting the legal advice that you need, you also may be better equipped to make decisions about your case and work toward resolving the charges against you.
A DUI can happen to anyone, and the consequences of a conviction can be long-term. Individuals should note that a DUI charge does not necessarily have to affect the rest of your life. An understanding and thorough criminal defense attorney with experience working against these charges may mean that you do not have to navigate the criminal justice system alone.
Fairfax DUI Stops
Most people that find themselves facing a DUI traffic stop did not set out to break the law, but mistakes can happen. A DUI stop can be intimidating. However, when drivers understand their rights and know how to react during a stop, they may have a better chance of effectively defending against any charges arising from such stops. A DUI attorney in Fairfax could help individuals understand more about DUI stops and what the circumstances of a DUI stop may mean.
The Initial Stop
If law enforcement officers suspect that individuals are operating a vehicle while under the influence, they will pull that person over and conduct an initial traffic stop. Generally, law enforcement will ask drivers to consent to and undergo different types of tests that could demonstrate if they are under the influence.
In some cases, officers may stop drivers who have committed a traffic violation, such as speeding, improper passing, or other similar actions. It may be only after officers approach the drivers of these vehicles that they suspect alcohol or drug usage. These observations may consist of slurred speech, slow reaction times, and the smell of alcohol, among others, which may give rise to the administration of sobriety tests.
These tests may include standard field sobriety tests that most law enforcement agencies administer, as well as a breath test, which is designed to measure the blood alcohol content (BAC) of drivers. If the results of these tests indicate that drivers are intoxicated or otherwise under the influence, they are likely to face arrest.
Field Sobriety Testing
Most people are familiar with the basics of standardized field sobriety testing. Among others, these tests often involve measuring the way eyes react to a stimulus, determining whether individuals can balance on one leg, and checking if individuals can walk toe-to-toe in a straight line. The main purpose of these tests is to build evidence that demonstrates probable cause to arrest an individual on suspicion of a DUI.
It is important for individuals to remember that they have the right to refuse these tests. However, their refusal to do so may help an officer establish probable cause to arrest them.
While law enforcement officers typically are trained in administering these tests, the results of the tests often may be subjective. Not all law enforcement officers administer these tests correctly. An individual’s performance on such tests also could be influenced by various factors unrelated to alcohol or drugs, including preexisting health conditions, prescription medications, illness, or even the location where the test is performed.
Portable Breathalyzer Testing
Another roadside sobriety test that takes place is the portable breathalyzer test. Law enforcement officials will often ask an individual to submit to a portable breathalyzer test to further help establish probable cause for an arrest. These tests are routine, but police officers still have a duty to ensure that the equipment being used is functioning properly and administer those tests in an appropriate manner.
Like standardized field sobriety testing, individuals have the right to refuse roadside breathalyzer testing. However, under state implied consent laws, refusal to take a breath test is likely to result in an automatic license suspension. The implied consent suspension is in addition to any other suspension that might later result from a DUI conviction.
Advocating for Your Rights When Stopped for a DUI
While law enforcement can use a refusal to submit to testing as probable cause for making an arrest, there is generally no reason why drivers should help police officers build a case against them. As an example, when questioned about alcohol or drug usage during a traffic stop, drivers have the right to remain silent and not answer those questions. In fact, individuals may properly identify themselves and request to speak with a DUI lawyer in Fairfax prior to making any other statements.
Individuals who want to learn more about their rights regarding a DUI, as well as the legal options that may be available to them, should contact a dedicated Fairfax DUI attorney immediately.
Following an Arrest
When individuals are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, they should expect their court appearance to take place shortly thereafter. During their first court appearance, the judge will inform the defendants of the charges against them, discuss their bail options, and tell them the date and time of their next court appearance.
The judge also is likely to inquire about retaining legal counsel to assist individuals with DUI charges. This part of the process can be extremely intimidating and very confusing, especially for those who have no prior experience with the criminal justice system. This is why it is often helpful to have a DUI lawyer present when dealing with Fairfax courts.
Legal Advocacy with a Fairfax DUI
The criminal justice system is not easy to navigate and the process of facing DUI charges can be incredibly confusing, overwhelming, and stressful. Having the knowledge and skills of an experienced legal advocate to represent the interests of individuals can make the process more approachable and manageable. As is the case with most criminal charges, the sooner that persons take steps to secure legal assistance, the sooner an experienced Fairfax DUI attorney can start working on building a strong defense to the pending criminal charges.
Skilled legal advocates know it is important to take a thorough approach to explore all available options when determining a defense strategy in a Fairfax DUI case. For those with question or concerns about DUI courts or the related judicial process, it may be useful to reach out for legal advice.
Going to Court for a Fairfax DUI
Understanding how DUI courts work can be an important part of facing DUI charges and navigating the related judicial process. For newcomers to the criminal justice system, as well as for individuals who may only have been in a courtroom elsewhere, the entire system can be a maze.
It also can be difficult to get clear answers to the many questions that persons in this situation are likely to have. While courts across the state follow the same laws, they do not always follow the same procedures, which can make figuring out what to do even more complicated and confusing.
Driving under the influence charges can be quite serious. For individuals who are in this situation, a capable DUI lawyer in Fairfax may be able to help explain the rights of individuals throughout the judicial process, answer their questions, and prepare them for the court proceedings to come.
General District Court
Since most DUI charges are misdemeanors, they routinely take place in the Fairfax County General District Court. Before a hearing, prosecutors and DUI defense lawyers meet. During this meeting, a DUI lawyer may discuss the key pieces of evidence in a case and see if the prosecutors are willing to offer alternative sentencing options.
If prosecutors offer a plea deal, and a defendant and their lawyer decide to take it, the case would not proceed to trial. Defendants must be in total agreement with a plea agreement in order to take it. It is not up to the lawyers to make this decision.
Alternatively, if prosecutors do not offer a plea bargain or if they offer one that is not acceptable to the defendants, the case will go to trial. If individuals would like to gain knowledge about the potential risks and benefits of proceeding to trial in lieu of accepting a plea agreement, a lawyer may be able to help.
Proceeding to Trial on DUI Charges in Fairfax
If individuals plead “not guilty” to DUI charges and have not accepted a plea agreement, the case will go to trial. This means that the judge will make a decision about the guilt or innocence of the accused persons. The prosecution and the defense each will have the chance to present evidence to the judge, which might include documents, such as the results of a breathalyzer test, or testimony by witnesses, such as the police officer who made the initial traffic stop and arrest.
The judge will then decide the guilt or innocence of the defendants, based on the evidence. If the judge finds defendants to be innocent of the charges, the case is over and the defendants may leave the courtroom. If, however, the judge finds defendants to be guilty of the charges, then the judge will move on to discuss the sentence, or the punishment, for the finding of guilt.
Potential Penalties in DUI Cases
The potential punishments for DUI convictions are harsh, especially for convictions on subsequent offenses. These penalties involve both administrative and court-ordered license suspensions, as well as fines and jail time, depending on the situation.
Suspension of Driving Privileges
Pursuant to Va. Code § 46.2-391.2, drivers who plead guilty or who are found guilty of driving under the influence become subject to automatic license suspensions by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The mandatory license suspension periods are as follows:
- First DUI offense with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher – seven days
- Second DUI offense – 60 days or until the date of trial
- Third DUI offense – suspension until the date of trial
Additionally, refusing a breath test results in an automatic DMV license suspension. A DUI conviction will result in court-ordered license suspension periods, as well, so the total license suspension or revocation period can become quite lengthy in many cases.
For a first-time DUI offense pursuant to Va. Code §18.2-270, the charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties for this offense include up to 12 months in jail and/or up to a $2,500 fine. There is a mandatory fine of $250 and a license suspension of 12 months.
A second DUI conviction within five years of the first conviction will require a 20-day mandatory jail sentence, with a total sentence ranging from one month to one year, as well as a $500 fine. If the second DUI conviction is more than five years after the first conviction, but less than ten years after the first conviction, then the mandatory minimum jail sentence is only ten days although there still may be a $500 fine.
A third DUI offense within five years carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months and constitutes a Class 6 felony conviction. If the third DUI offense occurs more than five years, but less than ten years, after the first offense, then the mandatory minimum jail time decreases to 90 days. There also may be a $1,000 fine for a third DUI offense.
Additionally, regardless of the number of their prior DUI convictions, drivers who commit DUI offense with BACs of 0.15 percent and higher will receive mandatory minimum days with the minimum sentences stated above. Given the potential ramifications of a DUI conviction, accused individuals should consider speaking with a diligent DUI Fairfax attorney for help.
The Role of the Circuit Court
If individuals are convicted during a DUI trial in Fairfax General District Court, they can file an appeal with a Fairfax County Circuit Court. While appeals are common in criminal cases on television or in the news, they are less common when it comes to misdemeanor convictions in a lower court, such as DUI cases.
The effectiveness of a potential appeal often depends upon the circumstances of a particular case and any unusual issues that arise during the case. In this situation, individuals may wish to work with an experienced DUI attorney in Fairfax to determine whether an appeal is a right step for them to take after a conviction.
Reduced Sentencing Options
In some cases, it may appear that a DUI conviction is inevitable, along with all of the negative consequences that a DUI conviction can bring. When the state does meet the burden of proof in a driving under the influence case, it may still be possible to avoid a conviction through reduced sentencing options. This is especially true for first-time offenders or those who have little or no prior criminal history.
The state may be willing to offer a defendant alternative sentencing options that can enable defendants to avoid conviction or some of the more serious repercussions of a conviction. For instance, individuals may be eligible to attend alcohol education classes or engage in community service in lieu of serving jail time and having a criminal conviction on their records. It should be noted that individuals facing their second or third DUI charge are likely to be ineligible for such programs, and may have trouble attempting to mitigate the charges against them.
A Fairfax attorney understands that every case is different and may help individuals who are accused of DUI understand more about what options might be available under the circumstances. They can discuss all possible options and with that information, determine a course of action.
Speak with a Fairfax DUI Attorney
If you are facing DUI charges, time is of the essence. There are many significant consequences related to DUI conviction that can have a significant impact on your life and livelihood, including the loss of driving privileges and other unintended consequences like higher insurance rates. A conviction could also mean that you have a criminal record that may follow you for your entire life.
These deeply personal aspects of a DUI can make an understanding Fairfax DUI lawyer an important part of your legal strategy in facing these charges. The sooner you begin working with a criminal defense attorney, the sooner that attorney can dedicate time and energy to investigating your case.
Facing DUI charges can be intimidating, but you do not have to face them alone. You still have important rights that must be protected and asserted throughout the judicial process. Find out more information about how a dedicated Fairfax DUI attorney can help you explore your options in defending against these charges today.