Virginia DWI Laws: Misunderstood? (Part 1)

Virginia DWI Misconceptions: 4-Part Series

Virginia DWI law

Part 1: what do you know about Virginia DWI laws?

Opinions and Insights
from a
Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney
and Northern VA DUI Lawyer

When it comes to the level of general knowledge possessed by the public about driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws in Virginia —   it seems to me that many people know a lot about a little, and not much about a lot. This is to be expected and one should never feel embarrassed for lack of knowledge in this area: Virginia DWI defense often relies on scientific arguments, and expert witnesses are frequently helpful and/or advisable depending on the issue and other factors. These cases test the defense attorney’s knowledge and mastery of the Virginia Rules of Evidence more so than most other criminal misdemeanor trials.

A lot about a little…

For example, several of the basics below are well known by many adults in Virginia, both attorneys and non-attorneys alike:

  • If convicted, one would be required to complete an alcohol safety program. (Many people also know that the program is called “ASAP” (or “VASAP”).
  • If convicted, one loses his or her privilege to operate a motor vehicle for a period of time.
  • If pulled over, an officer might make me perform field sobriety tests or blow into a breathalyzer.*
  • Fines are involved.
  • Jail time is possible.

*this statement is far more legally complex than about 95% of individuals who are not Virginia criminal lawyers realize. It is the subject of the next post (Part 2 of this series).

…and not much about a lot.

The basics aside, here are a few lesser-known Virginia DWI issues:

  • If arrested (not convicted!), your license will be automatically suspended administratively (before a judge rules)
  • Mandatory jail time is often required, but even if no mandatory jail time is required by law, a judge can still sentence you to up to 12 months in jail
  • In Virginia, DWI means driving while intoxicated; it does not necessarily mean intoxicated due to alcohol. You can be charged with DWI if you are intoxicated as a result of any substance, including over-the-counter medicine.
  • In Virginia, there is an implied consent rule with regard to breath tests.
  • A DWI trial often is a battle between both sides to keep certain pieces of evidence in or out.

Virginia DWI Law or Virginia DWI Laws?

Virginia DWI and DUI criminal attorneys must analyze a handful of laws, possibly dozens. To briefly prove this point, this list of Virginia Code Sections below is representative of only a a fraction of laws requiring analysis in many cases:

Va. Code
§ 18.2-267
§ 18.2-266
§ 18.2-267(E)
§ 18.2-267(D)
§ 18.2-268.2
§ 18.2-268(M)
§ 19.2-187(ii)
§ 46.2-391.2
§ 18.2-268.2(B)
§ 18.2-272
§§ 18.2-263, 18.2-268.3, 18.2-268.4

This introductory post is meant to lay a foundation; note these premises going forward:

  • Many non-lawyers correctly understand some basic Virginia DWI law concepts.
  • Despite having a basic understanding of some Virginia DWI concepts, those who are not Virginia criminal attorneys generally either are unaware of particular laws, interconnectedness of such laws, their consequences, or corollary and supplemental rules.
  • The next article will cover a single topic…perhaps the most misunderstood Virginia DWI related topic of all…breath test and refusal of breath tests in Virginia.

Ending Part 1 on a Good Note: People take the charge seriously

It is worth mentioning that in my experience, those who have been charged with a Virginia DWI violation and understand even the most basic aspects of the law, usually need no convincing they need to seek counsel.

Perhaps people charged with DWI in Virginia take it seriously due these factors:

  • stigma surrounding the dangerous nature of driving while intoxicated
  • societal shun
  • burdening relatives and friends
  • steep consequences, including jail time and fines
  • privilege to operate a motor vehicle may be on the line for a very long time
  • loss of employment
  • security clearance complications
  • probation violations

Next Article in Series: Breath Test REFUSAL: Always a Problem?

Part 2 Expected Publish Date: 3/14/14

Waiting for the next part of the series?
Check out past Virginia DUI and DWI articles we have published:

Should I buy a dashcam to protect myself from insurance fraud, and DWI stops?

Commercial Drivers: Unique DWI / OUI Issues

Virginia DWI Videos (Tips)

Petitioning to Restore Driving Privileges After a Third DWI

The Hidden Cost of a Virginia DWI

Driving with a revoked license (due to DWI)

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Brenton D. Vincenzes is a lifelong Fairfax County resident and Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer. He is a member of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National College of DUI Defense, NORML, and has been awarded the following in 2014-15: Top 100 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Nationally Ranked Top 10 Under 40 Defense Attorney (National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys) 10 Best in Client Satisfaction for Criminal Defense (American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys) Nationally Ranked Top 1% Attorney Award Recipient (National Association of Distinguished Counsel) As a local leader, Mr. Vincenzes mentors troubled youths, volunteers his time to serve at his church, takes select pro bono clients, and strives to improve the community. Mr. Vincenzes represents men, women, and juveniles through zealous and diligent advocacy, strategic planning, and skilled trial work preparation. Mr. Vincenzes' areas of criminal law practice are broad, and include most felonies and misdemeanors such as: reckless driving, DUI & DWI, drug offenses, assault and battery, domestic violence, assault on an officer, destruction of property, alcohol offenses, firearm offenses, larceny, shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and other theft offenses, and moving traffic violations among others. His private legal services are available in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, Arlington County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Stafford County, Alexandria, Manassas, Leesburg, South Riding, and other cities and towns.

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