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Changes to Virginia DUI Laws - July 2012

July 12, 2012

A conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol in Virginia will be more expensive and inconvenient starting July 1, 2012.  Recent changes to the statutory scheme in the Commonwealth insures that first-offense DUI defendants, upon a conviction, will be required to install an ignition interlock device as a condition of a restricted privilege to operate a motor vehicle. In the past, a court had the discretion to order the installation of the interlock for a first offense DUI although it rarely did. It should be noted that the ignition interlock was required if a person had a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher.

            The Virginia General Assembly amended Code Section 18.2-270.1 this year to read that, "[A]ny court of proper jurisdiction shall, as a condition of a restricted privilege prohibit an offender from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a functioning, certified ignition interlock system for a period of time not to exceed the period of license suspension and restriction, not less than six consecutive months without alcohol-related violation of the interlock requirements." The Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) will monitor the offender and keep track of the records of the interlock system.

            An ignition interlock is a system that requires a person to blow into the machine to allow a vehicle to start.  It also requires additional tests - called rolling retests - as the person drives.  If the machine detects the presence of alcohol, the car will not start or, if it occurs during a retest, it will eventually stop the car by turning off the engine.

            This all comes with an added cost on top of the roughly $350 it costs to participate in the VASAP program, fines payable to the court and fees for an attorney. Estimates for six months of the interlock system is about $600. The law also requires that every car owned or partially owned by the offender be equipped with the interlock.  So if a person owns two cars, both vehicles will have to be equipped with interlocks.  The money starts to add up quick for a person convicted of DUI.

            There is an exception to the interlock requirement.  If an offender operates a vehicle owned by his employer, he may drive that vehicle for work related purposes only if the court expressly allows it.

            The General Assembly - perhaps recognizing that the vast majority of DUI arrests are first-time offenders - have allowed for a person to pre-qualify for the installation of the interlock in 18.2-271.1. Although a person cannot get the interlock installed until a court orders the installation of the interlock system after a conviction.  But perhaps the single biggest question for attorneys and the court will be whether this punishment applies for a conviction after July 1, 2012 but committed prior to July 1 or an offense committed after the amended code section becomes the law in Virginia.  If a court believes that the ignition interlock requirement is for any conviction occurring after July 1, the number of people with the interlock required goes up the point where there will not be enough interlocks in the state to put in all the vehicles of every convicted DUI offender.  That in turn may lead to an increase in the number of DUI cases taken to trial as opposed to a plea.

            This continues the Commonwealth's history of increasing the punishment for DUI offenders.  By adding this interlock requirement for all DUI offenders, the government wants it to be an unbelievable burden on a person convicted of a DUI that they will never drink and drive again. It might work this time.

Written by Drew Kubvocik.