Are you wondering about the difference between a DUI and a DWI? The two terms both describe similar actions: DUI means driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. DWI means driving while intoxicated. Again, the intoxication can be caused by the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or both.

The specifics as to what counts as a DUI and what counts as a DWI can vary quite a bit from state to state, as can the severity of the penalties for each. As a matter of fact, in some states the difference can be significant. In this blog post, however, we will focus on how this issue is handled in Virginia.

The Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Virginia

In Virginia, the two charges are equally serious, especially when it comes to the penalties. The Virginia penal code uses both terms. It specifies that a person is not allowed to drive a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more.

It also states that no one is allowed to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs, whether they be prescription drugs or illegal drugs, alone or in any combination. The latter is sometimes referred to as a DUID, i.e., driving under the influence of drugs. All of these violations count as a class 1 misdemeanor for a first offense.

The key, however, is that you are not allowed to drive while intoxicated or impaired, even if your blood alcohol concentration turns out to be below 0.08%. As long as the police officer determines that you are impaired, based on your behavior or your appearance or smell, you can be charged with DUI or DWI.

Penalties for DUI and DWI

Both DUI and DWI count as a class 1 misdemeanor for the first offense. The potential penalties can include a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of $250 to $2,500.

In addition, your driver’s license will be suspended for up to one year. You may also be required to have an ignition interlock device on your car for six months as a condition to get back some restricted driving privileges. These are quite expensive and can be a hassle.

In addition, if your alcohol concentration exceeds certain levels, such as 0.15% or 0.2%, there will also be a mandatory minimum jail sentence.

So whether you are charged with a DUI or with a DWI, you need to take it very seriously and you should retain a criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charges. There are some differences between the two in terms of how they are defined, and what can help with your defense. An experienced defense attorney will be familiar with all that and can make a big difference when it comes to helping you with getting the charges reduced or dismissed.

What About Field Sobriety Tests?

The police officer may ask you to perform a field sobriety test. These involve standing on one leg for 30 seconds, walking in a straight line, and other such exercises. However, you do not have to comply with that request. In fact, it’s not a good idea to do so because such a test can really only be held against you.

At least a third of any randomly selected people would not pass a field sobriety test even if they were completely sober. Just be polite about it.

Breath Tests And Blood Tests

When it comes to breath tests and blood tests, Virginia has a so-called implied consent law. Under that law, drivers agree to submit to a chemical test, either a breath test or a blood test, or possibly both, if they are suspected to be drunk or otherwise under the influence of any substances that could impair their ability to drive.

However, you should know that there are two different kinds of breath alcohol tests, a preliminary breath test and an official breathalyzer test. The preliminary breath test is designed for use during the traffic stop. It’s supposed to help the officer decide whether or not someone is intoxicated. You are not required to take the preliminary breath test.

On the other hand, you should take the official breathalyzer test at the station. If you refuse the test after you have been arrested, you would face special penalties just for that, specifically an extra year of license suspension in addition to whatever your other penalties may turn out to be.

If someone refuses the breathalyzer test a second time within a ten-year period, it will be considered a first class misdemeanor. The penalties increase accordingly and will include up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 and a three-year license suspension.

And don’t believe for one minute that your refusal to submit to the chemical tests would deprive the court of crucial evidence against you because they don’t have your blood alcohol concentration. The refusal itself will count as evidence during the trial.

What You Should Do

As you can see, being charged with a DUI or a DWI is a serious matter, and a conviction can have major consequences on your future. If you have been charged with either of these, you should talk to a defense attorney who has a lot of experience with DUI or DWI cases and will fight for his clients. We have that experience. Call us for a free consultation and an in-depth case evaluation. We will be happy to help you.