Significant changes to Virginia’s DUI laws are now in effect

This article looks at changes Virginia has made to its breath-test refusal and commercial DUI laws.

This year has seen a number of important changes to Virginia's DUI laws, especially as regards breath test refusals and commercial DUI. The changes to the state's breath test refusal l aws are in response to a significant U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that deemed some of Virginia's DUI laws unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Virginia's commercial DUI laws have been changed in order to increase the fines and mandatory minimum jail sentences associated with such offenses.

Breath test refusals

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Burchfield v. North Dakota, that while criminalizing a blood test refusal is unconstitutional, states are allowed to make the refusal to give a breath test a criminal offense. In response to that ruling, Virginia removed criminal penalties for refusing to give a warrantless blood test.

However, the state did increase the penalties for refusing to give a breath test. That refusal has now been reclassified from a Class II misdemeanor to a Class 1. That reclassification means that fines and jail sentences for refusing a breath test have gone up substantially. Furthermore, magistrates in Virginia have also been instructed to prioritize blood test warrant requests.

Commercial DUI changes

The second big change to Virginia's DUI laws concerns drivers of commercial vehicles. As the Alexandria News reports, previously there had been no minimum jail sentence and no high-BAC-specific sanctions for commercial DUI. However, on July 1 that changed. From that date, if a driver of a commercial vehicle is convicted of their first DUI then they face a $250 fine plus five days in jail if their BAC is above 0.15 or 10 days in jail if it is above 0.20.

Sentences for repeat offenders have also been increased. A second offense within five years will now result in a $500 fine plus incarceration of a month to one year (with 20 days being a mandatory minimum). Furthermore, a second offense within 10 years will result in an additional 10 days of incarceration if the driver's BAC is above 0.10 or an additional 20 days if it is over 0.20. Finally, a third offense has now been classified as a Class 6 felony, whereas before there had been no felony threshold for commercial DUI.

Criminal defense law

As Virginia gets tougher on drunk drivers, it is important for motorists who may find themselves in trouble with the law to get legal help as soon as possible. Police officers and breathalyzers are far from perfect and they do make mistakes. Anybody who has been charged with DUI should talk to a criminal defense attorney to find out what their legal options are and how best to protect their rights and freedoms.