Under Virginia state law, it is illegal for someone to drive while under the influence of alcohol or mind-altering drugs. A driving under the influence (DUI) charge could result from showing signs of compromised driving ability or as a consequence of failing a chemical breath test.
Quite a few people who are accused of drunk driving in Virginia just give up and plead guilty right away. Instead of trying to defend themselves, they throw themselves on the mercy of the courts. Especially when someone has never had a prior offense and the incident did not result in a crash, they might expect leniency from the judge sentencing them.
However, a guilty plea is not a guarantee of leniency. Many people learn after entering a guilty plea that they have to face very serious consequences.
Much is left to a judge’s discretion
Assuming that someone is over the age of 21 and that the DUI is the result of a technical infraction rather than a crash where someone got hurt, the DUI charge someone faces will probably be a misdemeanor offense. The penalties depend on the sentence imposed by a judge.
A first-time DUI could mean up to $2,500 in fines and a year in jail. A judge could also suspend someone’s driver’s license for up to a year and mandate a driver’s education class. Those with a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of their arrest might face enhanced penalties, while those with prior offenses will face larger maximum fines and jail sentences.
There are many judges who will assign the maximum penalty possible in a DUI case because they view drunk driving as a threat to public safety. The mistake of pleading guilty instead of fighting a charge leaves someone at the mercy of the judge hearing their case.
There are viable defense strategies
There are multiple ways for someone accused of a DUI in Virginia to avoid a criminal conviction. Some people can question the legality of the traffic stop that led to their arrest. Other people may have reason to question the accuracy of breath test results.
Reviewing the evidence that the state has in its possession is often a good starting point for building a DUI defense strategy. An experienced criminal defense attorney will understand how to obtain said evidence and how to assess it on behalf of their clients.