In Virginia, even a first DWI is a crime.  More specifically, a first DWI conviction is a Class I Misdemeanor.  A DWI carries with it very serious consequences and will affect you in many ways.  Think of all the types of applications that require disclosure of your criminal record:

  • Employment
  • Undergraduate and Graduate Programs
  • Security Clearances
  • Loan Applications

What is a Class I Misdemeanor?

Virginia categorizes its criminal offenses into two broad types – felonies and misdemeanors.

Felonies are offenses for which carry with them, among other things, a maximum sentence of over one (1) year imprisonment.

Class I Misdemeanors are offenses for which the maximum sentence is twelve (12) months in jail and a $2,500.00 fine, either or both.

For a first DWI, I can get a year in jail?!

While the maximum jail sentence for a first DWI is one (1) year, the actual jail sentence received depends on the particular facts of each case.  Obviously, maximum means worst-case scenario.  While no one can predict what jail sentence you will receive if convicted, certain variables will need to be reviewed to give you a better idea.  The court will consider things like your:

  • Criminal and traffic record
  • Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) at time of driving
  • Driving behavior leading to the arrest
  • Property damage or personal injury (if any) caused

As one might expect, the court will probably look more favorably upon a person with a good driving record that caused no personal/property injury due to driving intoxicated than someone who has been caught before and caused damage.

Now you may be thinking, “that does not answer my question, James…how much time will I actually get?”  The truth is that no one knows.  And anyone who guarantees you a specific result is simply insincere.  We as attorneys are able to speculate based upon the facts present and fight for the best result.  But guarantees are worth about as much as the paper they are printed on.

To provide a baseline, however, there is something lightly termed the “standard first” DWI.  While you won’t find this in a law book, local Virginia practitioners use this term to mean a person charged with a low BAC, no prior DWI’s, no aggravating factors like an accident, no lengthy criminal/traffic record, an no particularly inappropriate behavior displayed to law enforcement.  Such cases usually do not result in active jail time, but there are exceptions.  Generally, a “standard first” DWI conviction results in period of one (1) year probation, either no active or a minimal active jail sentence, and a suspended jail sentence conditioned upon compliance with probation.   And keep in mind, the likelihood of a standard first can also depend on the particular court that a case is in and the prosecutor handling the case.

Additional consequences:  more than fines or Jail

With every DWI conviction, Virginia law requires additional punishments on top of the possible jail sentence and fine.  For instance, with a first DWI conviction, the law requires that your privilege to operate a motor vehicle within Virginia be suspended for one (1) year from the date of conviction.  The law only permits you to obtain a restricted operator’s license to drive for very limited purposes.  They include:

  • Employment
  • Medical care
  • Child care
  • Holy worship

But keep in mind - a restricted operator’s license is very limited.  You will not be able to drive for other daily necessities such as grocery shopping, job interviews, sports events with children, or other important events.   While it seems unfair, it’s the law.

In order to get your driving privileges restored at the end of the year, you have to enter and successfully complete the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP).  VASAP is a ten (10) week course intended to educate offenders about the consequences of alcohol and to deter future drunk driving.  VASAP also acts as your de facto probation.  You will be tested for drugs and alcohol and will be reported to the court if you test positive, fail to complete any portion of the program, or receive a new charge during your one (1) year period of probation.

As of July 1, 2012, to obtain a restricted license, the Virginia law requires you to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for AT LEAST six (6) months.  An ignition interlock is a device that prevents the vehicle from starting until you to breath into a machine connected to the vehicle’s ignition control.  If the machine detects alcohol in your blood, it will prohibit the vehicle from starting.  Additionally, the interlock device is connected to a computer that will record your positive breath sample.  That positive reading will ultimately be reported to ASAP, which will likely be a violation of your probation.

Additionally, some jurisdictions require additional local punishments.  For instance, in Loudoun County, the Court requires individuals to attend a program called the Victim Impact Panel (VIP).  That program is a day-long course where the attendees hear from individuals who have been affected by drunk driving.  Though, many jurisdictions do not regularly require active jail time on a first offense DWI, Loudoun is one of the exceptions.  Loudoun often requires at least a twenty-four (24) hour sentence for first offenses committed within its county borders.

Clearly penalties discussed above are not the only downsides to a DWI conviction, which can have long lasting affects on your future.  For more information, feel free to call me.  You can also check out additional information that I have provided at my Avvo site:


James S. Abrenio

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