Being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol in Virginia can have serious consequences. If you are charged with DUI and convicted, you could lose your driver’s license, be fined hundreds or thousands of dollars, and possibly be sentenced to serve jail time for your DUI conviction, along with other penalties.
DUI defense lawyers explain what drivers need to know
The steps you take immediately after your DUI arrest can make a big difference. Virginia’s legal system can be confusing, especially if this is your first DUI offense in Virginia. Our experienced Norfolk DUI defense attorneys at Welch & Wright, PLLC can help you every step of the way.
Tips for all interactions with the police
During any interaction with the police, from the initial traffic stop through arrest and booking, make sure you:
- Stay calm – It’s natural to be scared, but you need to stay calm to make smart decisions.
- Keep hands visible – After you stop your vehicle, place your hands on the steering wheel, and keep them visible to the officer throughout the interaction.
- Be polite – Being polite and respectful toward the officer can’t hurt your case, and often it leads to a better outcome.
- Give basic contact information – You do need to provide your name, address, license, and registration. There’s no advantage to refusing.
- Keep answers brief – Don’t volunteer any information. Keep your answers brief and remember that you can (politely) decline to answer questions other than your basic contact information.
What to do when pulled over for DUI
Even before you are arrested, it’s important to know your rights and take the proper steps to protect them, including:
- You can record the traffic stop – You have a First Amendment right to record the police during a traffic stop. Also keep in mind that nearly all police interactions are recorded by body cam and/or dashcam.
- Don’t consent to search – The police need probable cause (or a warrant) to search your vehicle without your consent. Don’t give them your consent. Be polite but firm: “I do not consent to a search.” If they search your vehicle anyway, don’t physically resist, but do make a note of it so that your attorney can fight the search in court.
- Field sobriety tests (FST) are optional – The standard field sobriety exercises, including the walk and turn, one-leg stand, and horizontal gaze nystagmus, are optional in Virginia. You can refuse without legal penalties (but your refusal to participate in FSTs may be used against you in a determination of whether probable cause existed for an arrest to be made).
- Preliminary breath tests are optional – The police officer may ask to conduct a preliminary breath test (PBT) using a handheld device at the scene. Again, this is optional in Virginia, but refusal of the PBT may still result in your arrest. (The breathalyzer at the police station is not optional; more on that below.)
What happens when you’re arrested for DUI?
If the police officer or state trooper decides to arrest you, it’s important that you continue to follow the same general steps – stay calm, be polite, and keep your answers brief.
Here’s what to expect if you are arrested for DUI in Virginia:
- You will most likely be required to take a more formal DUI breath test at the police station, known as the Evidentiary Breath Test (EBT). This test is not optional in Virginia; if you refuse, your driver’s license will be suspended under Virginia’s implied consent
- Alternatively, if you are suspected of being under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol, you may be taken to a medical facility for a blood test. Again, this is not optional under the implied consent law.
- You will be required to appear before a Virginia magistrate judge in the same judicial district where your arrest took place – usually within the police station. The magistrate will decide whether to charge you with DUI and/or another applicable charge (such as reckless driving).
- If you are charged, the magistrate judge will also decide whether you can be released from police custody or whether you have to remain in jail. This decision can depend on many factors, including your BAC level, the facts surrounding the arrest, and any previous DUI charges.
- If the Virginia magistrate judge orders you to remain in jail, the court will then set an arraignment date, where you will appear for the first time before a general district court judge in the jurisdiction where you were arrested. During the arraignment, the judge will inform you of the charges against you, the possibility of jail time, and your right to an attorney.
- Usually, bond is addressed at a separate hearing. Your DUI defense attorney will schedule the bond hearing.
- Most DUI charges in Virginia are heard in General District Court. However, a felony DUI charge will be heard in Virginia Circuit Court.
What to do after you’re arrested for DUI
First: exercise your right to remain silent. Once the police have decided to arrest you, nothing you say or do is going to get them to change their minds. The only thing you should say to the police after your arrest is “I need to speak with my lawyer.” Be polite but firm.
In addition, don’t talk to anyone else at the police station after you have been arrested, including other people who have been arrested. Again, the only person you should discuss the arrest with is your attorney.
Once you are arrested and booked at the jail, you will have the opportunity to make a call. However, depending on the time of day, you may not be able to get ahold of an attorney right away. This is when your right to remain silent is particularly important. But when you eventually do get the opportunity, take it! We can’t stress this enough: exercise your right to an attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you have an experienced DUI defense lawyer on your side, the better.
As soon as possible after you are released from jail, write down the details of what happened. Some of the most legally significant details include:
- What were you doing when you were pulled over?
- Why did the police say they pulled you over? Did they say anything else about your driving?
- What did you say to the police?
- Did the police search your car? Did you give them your consent to do so?
- When were you informed of your rights?
Again, don’t discuss these details with anyone else. Save them for your attorney.
How a Hampton Roads DUI defense attorney can help
Virginia’s legal system can be confusing, especially if you have never been arrested or charged with DUI. This is why it’s critical that you have an experienced lawyer on your side who fully understands how the legal system works in Virginia.
One of the ways an attorney can strengthen your defense is by challenging the actions the police took during your traffic stop or arrest, including:
- The police did not have reasonable suspicion to pull you over.
- The police did not have probable cause to search your vehicle.
- The police did not have probable cause to arrest you for DUI.
- The police did not read you your rights.
Your attorney can also challenge the evidence obtained during the process. For instance, was the breathalyzer machine calibrated and tested properly? Were the field sobriety exercises conducted and scored correctly? The sooner you talk to a lawyer about what happened, the more effectively they can build your defense.
If you’ve been arrested for DUI in Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Virginia Beach, or anywhere in the Hampton Roads region, get a defense attorney on your side who knows the system and knows how to win. Contact us right away. We can help.