DUI and reckless driving charges can have devastating consequences if not properly challenged. The following is a list of frequent asked questions regarding these charges in Prince William County. For answers to your specific questions, however, you should consult with a well-qualified Prince William County attorney who has experience defending against charges of DUI and reckless driving.
What constitutes DUI in Prince William County?
The Virginia Criminal Code [V.C.C. § 18.2-266] says you can be convicted of DUI if you operate a vehicle under any of the following conditions:
Will I go to jail if I’m convicted of DUI in Prince William County?
For a first offense, it’s up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine between $250 and $2,500, plus a one year driver’s license suspension. The sentence for a second conviction ranges from $500 to $2,500 and/or up to a year in jail (with a possible 40 days minimum mandatory incarceration), and a three year license suspension. A third conviction bumps the fine up to between $1,000 and $2,500. It also includes a mandatory minimum six months in jail along with indefinite license suspension. See VCC § 18.2-270.
Underage drivers convicted of DUI can expect a minimum fine of $500, a one year driver’s license suspension and 50 hours of community service. See V.C.C § 18.2-266.1.
These are awfully tough laws, are they working?
In 2004, the Virginia Legislature passed more than 70 bills that significantly strengthened the potential penalties in DUI charges as part of a zero-tolerance stance on drunk driving, particularly when dealing with repeat offenders. In the past 10 years, DUI fatalities in the Commonwealth fell by 21 percent, according to the Virginia DMV. Crashes related to DUI have dropped by about one-third. It will be interesting to see the statistics a couple of years from now in the wake of even stiffer penalties that went into effect in January, 2014.
Can I have a jury trial for a DUI charge?
There are no jury trials in the General District Court; where all traffic offenses are heard. But if you are found guilty, you can appeal the case to the Circuit Court for a new trial, providing you file your challenge within 10 days of your conviction. In most Circuit Court trials you have the right to insist on a jury trial. You should consult with an attorney to determine whether you should consider an appeal if you have been convicted of DUI in Prince William County.
When can an officer stop me, do I have to take any field sobriety tests?
An officer can stop you if he or she has “probable cause” based on their observations of your driving behavior. Probable cause for a traffic stop is not difficult to prove in court, though establishing probable cause regarding an arrest is more difficult. This is why you will likely be asked to take any or all of three field sobriety tests (FSTs) and to submit to a breath test. You may refuse such tests, however you should always do so respectfully. Those who decline the tests face almost certain arrest, so you will have to decide if it is better to take the test and run the risk of any measurable amount of alcohol recorded or if it’s better not to have any results from the traffic stop. The latter may be in your best interest if you suspect you have an extremely high BAC, which can lead to more severe charges and penalties.
What other risks do I run if I refuse to take a breathalyzer?
You driver’s license is automatically suspended for one year [VCC § 18.2-268.3] and you can’t request any sort of restricted driver’s license if you’re subsequently convicted. Whether you refuse, or submit and fail, there are ways in which a good Prince William County DUI attorney can successfully challenge such evidence or action in court.
Are ignition interlock device mandatory in Prince William, Va?
In certain circumstances the installation of an ignition interlock device may be mandatory. Most commonly for those with prior DUI convictions and/or those with a first or subsequent conviction with a BAC greater than 0.15 percent. See VCC § 18.2-270.1. It can also be a discretionary order for a first offense, which means it depends on the judge. Some DUI defendants agree to an ignition interlock device in the hope that the court will not require they suffer harsher penalties, such as time in jail.
What is reckless driving in Prince William County?
It is a criminal offense rather than a simple traffic citation that allows you to pay a fine through the mail. Because of this, it is possible that those convicted of reckless driving may be sentenced to jail time, though a well-qualified attorney can work to fight such penalties. It is viewed – according to the Commonwealth’s definition – as driving “at a speed or in a manner [that] endanger[s] . . . life, limb, or property.” Though the statute is relatively clear in its definition, determination of whether you receive a reckless driving charge can be based on the opinion of the police officer who gives you the ticket. See V.C.C § 46.2-852.
Why is reckless driving treated so harshly?
After many years of research by law enforcement and other sources, certain offenses were determined to pose the greatest danger to drivers, property, and the public. As such, the legislature created this “Super Class” of what were just traffic offenses and made them criminal misdemeanor charges, which carry the possibility of expensive fines and possible jail time. There are 13 different behaviors or moves that are listed in the state’s code as being examples of reckless driving. The most commonly cited include, but are not limited to, the following:
What are the penalties for reckless driving in Prince William?
You can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and be forced to pay a fine as high as $2,500. You may have your driver’s license suspended for up to six months and will receive six demerit points on your DMV driving record — which remain for 11 years. Conviction of reckless driving also means that you will incur a criminal record.
Judges are allowed to exercise discretion in sentencing, therefore someone who has an otherwise good driving record and no other offenses may qualify for a lesser offense. An experienced Prince William County traffic attorney is best-suited to make such an argument to the court. In some cases, it’s possible for first-time offenders to qualify for probation.
Can I plead guilty and mail my fine?
You can’t do that with any criminal offense in Virginia. If you fail to appear, a warrant for your arrest will be immediately issued.
I was stopped for speeding, but my ticket says “reckless driving.” Are they the same thing?
Speeding in and of itself – if it is less than 20 miles over the posted limit — is just simply a traffic violation and can be paid through the mail. Because reckless driving is a criminal misdemeanor, this is not an option And because possible jail time is involved, it’s best to seek the assistance of an experienced defense lawyer to protect your interests and help you avoid reckless driving’s dire consequences.
Will I be charged abusive driver fees in Prince William County?
These no longer exist. When the legislature enacted the reckless driving statutes, it dropped the abusive driver fees that were originally meant to discourage these same reckless offenses. The difference here was that abusive driver fees ($750-$3,000) didn’t really address the law as the current statutes do because the old charges that triggered these very expensive fees were not jailable offenses. The current law now is the best of both worlds as far as the legislature is concerned: expensive fines and the possibility of being jailed.
Can I represent myself? How does hiring an attorney help me?
You can, but do you want to risk jail time in order to save the attorney fees? Virginia reckless driving laws are quite complex and are hard to sort out. Once convicted, your criminal record will have a misdemeanor offense attached to it. A good defense lawyer can help prevent this.
Do you know how to research your case? Are you well-versed in criminal procedure? Some judges do not have the patience – or empathy – for those ignorant of the law and criminal procedure and who try and argue such matters before them.
Negotiating a plea deal or sharing mitigating circumstances that might see the charge lowered to a lesser offense, including harmful aggressive driving [V.C.C. § 46.2-868.1] and improper driving [V.C.C. § 46.2-869] is difficult. Additionally, if you retain an attorney they can appear on your behalf in many instances, meaning you do not have to miss work or other important engagements for court dates.
For more information on Prince William County Criminal Charges, click here.
Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law