1. Failing to understanding how serious a Virginia DUI / DWI is.
Believe it or not, some people still don't understand just how serious a DUI / DWI charge is. In Virginia, DUI / DWI falls in the most serious category of misdemeanor criminal charges and if you are convicted of a DUI / DWI it will follow you for many years. You will be ordered to pay both a fine and court costs, and in many cases you will be required to serve a mandatory jail sentence of at least 5 days. In addition, if convicted of a DUI / DWI in Virginia, your license / privilege to drive a motor vehicle in Virginia will be suspended immediately (one year for a first conviction, three years for a second conviction within 10 years, and indefinitely if it is your third conviction within a 10 year period) and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will report a DUI / DWI conviction on your driving history for at least 11 years. A conviction for DUI / DWI in Virginia will also cause your insurance rates to go up, and the additional insurance premiums alone could cost you thousands of dollars and your insurance company must notify the DMV if you do not maintain your insurance.
2. Talking about your Virginia DUI / DWI to people who aren't lawyers.
The attorney-client privilege generally protects what you tell lawyers, but there is no such privilege protecting what you say to non-lawyers. Thus, if you make incriminating statements to non-lawyers, they can be used against you. In fact, you may be shocked to learn that all phone calls made by inmates at the jail, except to lawyers, are recorded and subject to being monitored. It is wise to only speak about the details of your case to your lawyer.
3. Thinking you don't need a lawyer to fight your Virginia DUI / DWI.
DUI / DWI law is a complex mixture of law, science and medicine and the simple truth is that you absolutely need highly skilled representation to navigate a DUI / DWI case without making the situation worse than it already is. Defenses must not only be identified, but they must be raised at the right time or they will be lost. Over time, your memory of the events will fade, witnesses often relocate and become difficult to find, and a case which was at one time perhaps a winner can quickly become a loser.
You need a lawyer quickly, but you also need the right lawyer. Do your homework. Confirm the education, training and experience of any lawyer you speak with, and make sure it is specific to law, science and medicine in the field of DUI / DWI defense, and hire the right lawyer as quickly as you can so their team can start working for you. Remember, you don't have any idea how to go about defending a DUI / DWI case.
4. Hiring the wrong attorney.
Most people understand that the medical field is diverse and doctors have many areas in which they can specialize. Law, like medicine, is extremely diverse. Just as you wouldn't want your eye doctor doing your brain surgery, you don't want a lawyer without the necessary specialized education, training and experience handling your Virginia DUI / DWI case. I believe it is essential that you to find a lawyer who, at the very least, (1) is a member of the National College for DUI Defense, (2) has completed the NHTSA curriculum on Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and (3) has been formally trained on the operational principles of the various breath testing machines used by the police.
5. Settling for a less desirable lawyer based on the fee
The Commonwealth Attorney's resources are essentially unlimited when it comes to prosecuting your Virginia DUI / DWI. You need to hire the best lawyer you can afford to try and level the playing field and give yourself the best chance at success. You wouldn't choose a surgeon for your child, parent or significant other based on the cost, so why do some people make a decision about something as important as a DUI / DWI defense lawyer based on the fee? Perhaps these are the same people who don't understand how serious their DUI / DWI case is. You would select a surgeon based on expertise in a particular area, skill and experience, and the selection of a DUI / DWI defense lawyer should be done the same way.
The outcome of your Virginia DUI / DWI case could be devastating, and the lawyer you choose could be the difference in the outcome of your case.
Just as in any other job or profession, rookie lawyers typically cost less because they lack the experience and success necessary to command higher fees. This can result in these lawyers having to spread themselves too thin by handling too many cases which compromises the quality of the representation. As attorneys become more specialized in a particular field, their knowledge of the intricacies of that field increases, their skills improve, and they often are more successful. Lawyers who have honed their skills and expanded their knowledge through years of experience handling thousands of DUI / DWI cases often charge higher fees - which then contributes to the lawyers' continued success because it allows these attorneys to handle fewer cases and give each case the full attention it deserves. Do you want a lawyer who is running a law practice based on quantity of clients or quality of representation?
6. Missing the opportunity to challenge the Administrative License Suspension.
If you are arrested for a DUI / DWI in Virginia, and (1) have a breath test result of .08 or more, (2) are under 21 years of age and have a breath test of .02 or more, or (3) are charged with Refusing to Submit to a Breath or Blood Test, it triggers an automatic Administrative License Suspension - the length of which varies depending on the specific charge. The suspension will be for 7 days for a first offense of DUI / DWI or Refusal, 60 days for a second offense of DUI / DWI or Refusal within 10 years, and until trial if it happens to be a third offense of DUI / DWI or Refusal within 10 years. However, you can challenge the suspension if you act quickly, and doing so may provide some additional information about your case because the officer should have to testify about what happened. If the challenge is successful, your license is returned to you and you can drive again. If you do not act quickly enough, or if your challenge is unsuccessful, the suspension will continue and you may not drive at all - for any reason - during the period of suspension.
7. Failing to appear for your trial.
DUI / DWI is a misdemeanor criminal offense in Virginia and even if though you have hired a lawyer you are still required to physically come to court and address the allegation. After being arrested for a DUI / DWI in Virginia, you either signed a Summons or a bond recognizance form promising to appear in court for the trial of your case, and the failure to come to court will likely result in the court issuing a warrant for your arrest. As if that isn't bad enough, once you are arrested on the new warrant for failing to appear in court there is a good chance you will be held in jail until your trial date, since it is going to be tough to convince the magistrate that you will actually appear in court on the next date. Lastly, if you ever happen to find yourself in the unfortunate position of being arrested in the future, your criminal history is going to show that you previously failed to appear in court which will make it far more likely that you will be taken to jail and held without bond.
8. Pleading guilty when you should have gone to trial.
In almost every case, the prosecuting attorney will discuss your case with your lawyer and then make an offer regarding how to resolve your case by agreement. Your lawyer should then discuss the offer with you and explore the various ways you can proceed. Your evaluation of the offer depends on how strong you and your lawyer think the case against you is, how confident you are that you could obtain a better result at trial and whether you are willing to accept the risks of going to trial. Since going to trial necessarily involves a certain degree of risk, there may be some comfort in accepting the offer and resolving the case by agreement. However, if you decide to accept the prosecuting attorney's offer, plead guilty and resolve the case by agreement, you give up valuable rights and opportunities such as the opportunity to make constitutional challenges, the right to argue about any of the mistakes the police may have made and the right to make the government prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt.
9. Driving while your license is suspended or revoked for a Virginia DUI / DWI
Administrative Suspension: If you are arrested for a DUI / DWI in Virginia and your license was administratively suspended for a period of time, you are completely prohibited from driving. You may not drive to work. You may not drive to school. You may not drive your children to day care or to the doctor. You may not drive at any time, or for any reason. If you are caught driving during the administrative license suspension, you will be arrested and charged with another crime, and will probably be taken to jail. You may even be held without bond until your trial date.
After conviction: If you are convicted of a DUI / DWI in Virginia, you may or may not be granted a restricted license allowing you to drive for certain limited purposes. If you are not granted a restricted license, you are not allowed to drive at any time - for any reason. If you are granted a restricted license, you are only allowed to drive during the times and for the reasons stated on the restricted license. If you are caught driving without a restricted license, or outside the terms of a restricted license if one was issued, you will be arrested and charged with another crime, and will probably be taken to jail. Again, you may even be held without bond until your trial date.
If you are found guilty of driving with a suspended or revoked license you will probably be sentenced to serve time in jail and ordered to pay a fine. In addition, your license to drive will be suspended for an additional period of time, and you will not be allowed to drive at any time - for any reason.