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Driving While Intoxicated

Driving while intoxicated is taken very seriously in Virginia. Even a first offense with a low blood-alcohol content carries a mandatory suspended jail sentence, a fine of at least $250, suspension of your driving privilege for twelve months, and successful completion of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program, which is both an alcohol addiction program and a form of active probation.  Cases involving a blood-alcohol content 0.15 or above include a mandatory jail sentence.  A second offense has even harsher penalties, while a third or subsequent offense can be a felony.  If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated, you will need an attorney to represent you in court.  Call us at (703) 591-4868 to schedule a free consultation regarding your particular circumstances.

Ever wonder what the police looking for when they are deciding whether to arrest you for drunk driving?

The short answer is they are looking for physical indicators of intoxication and admission of drinking alcohol and/or using drugs. Some very common descriptions of traffic stops I hear from police officers include:

  1. An odor of alcohol coming from the car;
  2. An odor of alcohol coming from the driver when he or she gets out of the car;
  3. Glassy, bloodshot eyes.
  4. Slow or slurred speech.
  5. Confusion, disorientation, inability to respond to questions or instructions appropriately;
  6. Swaying, unsteady on feet, holding onto something for balance.
  7. Beer cans, bottles, other alcohol containers, marijuana shake or roaches visible in the car.
  8. Admission to having drunk any alcohol, smoked, or taken any drug regardless of whether it is a legal or illegal substance.

If a police officer believes you are under the influence during a traffic stop, you can expect to be asked to step out of the car and do some field sobriety tests. The whole time the officer is explaining how to do each test, he is watching you for any of the eight indicators mentioned above. He's also watching to see if you start the test early while he is still telling you how to do the test.  While you are performing the test, he is looking for specific common mistakes and any unusual behavior. You'd be surprised at some of the crazy things drunk and high people do instead of following the instructions.

So, what can you do if you are afraid you might not pass the field sobriety tests?  You have the right to politely say “no” when you are asked to do them. The laws that are passed by the legislature are supplemented by decisions made by the courts. For example, the Virginia legislature passed a law saying it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle when you are drunk and a blood alcohol content of .08 or more is presumed to be drunk. The courts have supplemented the law to decide that field sobriety tests are voluntary in nature, meaning you don't have to do them if you don't want to.

Even though field sobriety tests are optional, you are still legally required to obey all assertions of lawful authority made by a police officer. The law assumes a reasonable person can tell the difference. But unfortunately, my average client believes everything a police officer asks of her is an order and not a request. The best thing you can do if you ever find yourself in this situation is stay calm and politely ask, “do I have to?” Don't let the officer avoid answering the question. Stay polite and inform the officer you will not do anything voluntarily, but you will obey any direct orders… “please clarify if this is a request or an order?”

Do not forget that as a rule, police officers are regular human beings with a job to do. They do not usually hate the people they stop and they are not out to “get” you. They do need to keep the roads safe and do not have to be your lawyer offering legal advice how to get out of trouble. Know your rights and duties and keep calm as your police encounter proceeds.

If you've been accused of driving while intoxicated, you will need a lawyer to help you in court.  Drunk driving defenses can be very technical and the penalties are among the most severe and expensive you can face in a misdemeanor case.  Call us at (703) 591-4868 to schedule a free analysis of your case.


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