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

A number of changes to Virginia’s DUI laws were recently made, including for truckers and test refusals.

On July 1, 2017 hundreds of laws that were passed by the Virginia General Assembly during its 2017 session went into effect. Among those new laws are a number of changes to the Commonwealth's DUI laws, including tougher penalties for commercial drivers who are convicted of DUI and a change to the law that addresses constitutionality issues with blood test refusals. The changes to the laws are significant and drivers living in or travelling through Virginia should be made aware of them.

Commercial DUI changes

As the Fairfax County Times reports, drivers of commercial vehicles who are convicted of DUI in Virginia now face stiffer fines and higher mandatory minimum jail sentences. The amendments to the law generally bring the penalties for operating a commercial motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol more in line with the penalties for "regular" DUI's.

For a first offense, commercial drivers must pay a mandatory minimum fine of $250. Furthermore, if their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.15 or higher they face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of five days. If their BAC is above 0.20, the mandatory minimum jail sentence goes up to ten days. Previously there had been no mandatory minimum jail sentence and no high-BAC-specific penalties for commercial vehicle DUI's.

Further, the penalties increase substantially for second offenses depending on how soon they occur after the first offense. If the second offense occurs within five years of the first, then there is a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and a twenty-day mandatory minimum jail sentence. If the second offense occurs between five and ten years from the date of the first offense, the fine remains $500.00 but the mandatory minimum jail period is ten days. A third offense within ten years will now result in the offender being charged with a Class 6 felony.

Blood-test refusals

Another recent change to Virginia's DUI laws addresses the U.S. Supreme Court case of Burchfield v. North Dakota, which, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, found that criminalizing a blood-test refusal is generally unconstitutional. Virginia had been one of a minority of states that had criminal penalties for refusing to take a breath test after being arrested for driving under the influence.

The changes to Virginia's DUI laws now clarify that refusing to take a blood-test in reference to a DUI investigation is not subject to criminal penalties, however, individuals can still consent to such tests and police officers are (as always) allowed to obtain a warrant to administer blood tests. The law also requires Magistrates to prioritize blood-test warrant requests.

Further, refusing to submit to a breath test is still illegal and some of the penalties for refusing to submit to a breath test have been increased. While a first violation of the "refusal" law is still a "civil penalty" wherein the defendant's license is suspended for one year, a second refusal within ten years is now punishable as a Class I misdemeanor rather than a Class II misdemeanor.