Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Virginia's DUI laws undergo major change

Earlier this year, Virginia politicians passed 836 new bills during their legislative session. As a result, a spate of new laws – influencing a wide range of activities, from coal mining to the preservation of historical cemeteries – took effect on July 1.

Some of the most radical changes affect the state’s DUI laws. Specifically, Virginia’s ‘implied consent’ rules have been revised. In some scenarios, the penalties have been reduced; in others, increased – to a draconian degree. 

What is implied consent?

Most states have ‘implied consent’ laws that drivers agree to when they apply for a driver’s license. (Indeed, one cannot obtain a license without agreeing to these laws.) Essentially, these measures ensures that drivers will willingly undergo roadside testing – i.e. breath tests or blood tests – if authorities have reason to believe they are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If a driver refuses such testing, implied consent laws enable the state to mete out punishment. In Virginia, this typically meant the suspension of one's license. 

What’s changed in Virginia?

Blood tests

With the passage of House Bill 2327, drivers can no longer be punished for refusing warrantless roadside blood tests. Previously, drivers faced a one-year license suspension for refusing these tests (three years for repeat offenders); now such penalties are gone. The change comes on the heels of a 2016 Supreme Court decision finding that warrantless blood tests violate citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment.

However, if the authorities obtain a warrant for a blood test, drivers must subject themselves to them or else face legal repercussions.

Breath tests

Conversely, some drivers will now be punished more harshly for refusing breath tests. Namely, if a driver has refused a breath test within the last 10 years, and then refuses a subsequent breath test, the penalties are no longer limited to license suspension. Rather, such offenses will now be classified as Class 1 misdemeanors, and carry potential punishments of up to $2,500 in fines and one year in jail.

Watch out for summer stings

Moreover, in summertime the authorities are on the lookout for DUI offenses. They deploy more officers and increase surveillance – especially around holiday weekends.

As such, it’s important to be aware of the potential penalties for refusing roadside testing, and to work with a qualified and experienced attorney in the event that a pullover leads to a criminal charge. 

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