I was charged with DUI / DWI / Drunk Driving. Can I beat the charge? What are the punishments I am facing?

I was charged with DUI / DWI / Drunk Driving. Can I beat the charge? What are the punishments I am facing?

While you are not required to have a lawyer for this charge, we believe that having a lawyer represent you would be a good idea.  You may not realize it but, in Virginia, a DWI (DUI and DWI are the same thing in Virginia) is a very serious charge.

A DWI is a Class One Misdemeanor.  The maximum penalty is up to one year in jail, up to $2,500 in fines, and up to a 12 months license suspension.  This is the same level crime as a Shoplifting, and Possession of Marijuana.  Of course, few people get the maximum charge.  However, the following is quite common:

 

  • Jail:  While the odds that you will get a year in jail are very slim, depending upon whether your driving behavior was dangerous, your BAC level was far above the minimum (.08), and depending upon the Judge or the Prosecutor you get on your Court date, jail is a very real possibility.  In fact, as of 7/1/04 for BAC levels over .15 jail is mandatory.  And even without mandatory jail time, if you go on your own, without an attorney, with the wrong judge and the wrong argument you could receive significant jail time as punishment;
  • License Suspension: Mandatory 1 year.  You may be allowed by some judges, depending upon the facts, to drive to and from work, school and other categories; and
  • Fines:  Usually less than $400.00.
  • Demerit Points: 6 DMV demerit points.
  • Insurance: While it is not a legal issue, you should check with your insurance company for how much your rates will increase.

 

In order to protect your rights, it is almost always better to be represented by an attorney.  While no attorney can guarantee any particular outcome or result, an experienced attorney can better help you win a trial or negotiate a plea agreement to reduce your charge or your punishment.

 

I was Charged with Reckless Driving.  Am I in a lot of trouble?

 

While you are not required to have a lawyer for this charge, we believe that having a lawyer represent you would be a good idea.  You may not realize it but, in Virginia, there are 17 different types of Reckless Drivings.  The most common is Reckless Speeding (most of the offenses listed in this code section are for driving faster than 20 mph over the limit or anything over 80).  For example, even traveling over 75 in a 55 mph zone is “Reckless Driving”, and going 81 in a 65 mph zone is Reckless.  Reckless Driving is a Class 1 Misdemeanor crime, and a very serious charge.

While it may not be worth the money to hire a lawyer if you are barely over 75 and have a perfect driving record, Judges often suspend licenses for people traveling faster than 80 and usually hand out jail at over 90.  And with previous driving offenses on your record, the punishments may be worse.

If you have a great driving record, you may be able to convince the Judge on your own to drop a Reckless Driving down to a lesser charge.  However, when you hit anything faster than 30 mph over the limit (e.g. 85 in a 55 mph zone), Judges routinely issue license suspensions.  Even worse, over 90, jail is likely.  If you have a bad driving record, again, the punishments could be worse.

The harsh penalties are, as I stated above, due to the fact that a Reckless Driving is a Class One Misdemeanor.  The maximum penalty is up to one year in jail, up to $2,500 in fines, and up to a 6 months license suspension.  This is the same level crime as a DWI, Shoplifting, and Possession of Marijuana.  Of course, few people get the maximum charge.  However, the following is quite common:

o       Jail:  While the odds that you will get a year in jail are very slim, with the wrong judge and the wrong argument you could receive some jail time as punishment;

o       License Suspension: Many judges, unless you have a perfect driving record, will suspend licenses; and

o       Fines:  Usually less than $200.00.

o       Demerit Points: 6 DMV demerit points.

o       Insurance: While it is not a legal issue, you should check with your insurance company for how much your rates will increase.

 

Many people think that they can go to court on their own and just “explain” their situation to the Judge and they will get their charge reduced.  Others think that on their own, they will be able to convince the Judge to treat them leniently.  To be honest, no lawyer can guarantee a particular result.  And, there is no law that says you have to have a lawyer.  However, because you are not trained in Virginia Law, and have not received the “on the job” training that we have received by being in Virginia Courts almost every day, you really do not have the ability to beat the charge, nor convince the court to treat you leniently.

The main advantage of retaining a lawyer is that a lawyer will be able to identify any legal defenses you may have.  Contrary to popular belief, people can win Reckless Driving charges.  In addition, by knowing the personality of the Judges, a good lawyer will know what arguments will work best with each Judge.  If, after reviewing all the facts, the law and the calibrations of the speed detection device used in your case, your lawyer concludes that winning a trial would be difficult, he can negotiate with the Prosecutor to reduce the charge or limit the punishment.  A lawyer is essential for these negotiations, because in most jurisdictions, a private citizen is not allowed to speak with the Prosecutor.  Most Prosecutors only speak with retained attorneys.  Thus, without an attorney, you have virtually no ability to reach a plea agreement.

In summary, in order to protect your rights, it is almost always better to be represented by an attorney.  While no attorney can guarantee any particular outcome or result, an experienced attorney can better help you win a trial or negotiate a plea agreement to reduce your charge or your punishment.