A Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge can seriously derail your life, particularly if the court finds you guilty. First-time DUI offenders in West Virginia face a fine of $100-500 and up to six months in jail. Although first-time offenders typically don’t receive jail time, a two-day sentence is mandatory for drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level over .15%.
Additionally, first-time offenders can have their driver’s license suspended for up to six months. To reduce the license suspension, drivers can participate in the West Virginia DUI Deferral Program (more on that later).
Needless to say, West Virginia courts take DUI’s seriously. Understanding how you can prevent getting a DUI charge in the first place and the steps you should take after being pulled over can help you navigate a DUI case. Today, we're giving out some tips on how to avoid and handle a DUI in West Virginia.
Don't Drink & Drive
It should go without saying, but the easiest way to avoid a DUI is by not drinking and driving in the first place. If you consume any alcohol, either don't use your car or commission a sober designated driver (DD) to shuttle you home. Yes, even if you're sure you can drive.
If you get in a car while intoxicated, make sure you get in the back seat to avoid being near the wheel. Passengers can be charged with a DUI if the police are unsure who was driving the car or believe the passenger was controlling the car, so sitting in the back seat removes you from the situation.
Take Care of Your Car
The better shape your car is in, the less reason police have to pull you over. Let's say you act as the DD one night and drive some drunk friends home. On your way back to your house, you get pulled over by a police officer for a broken tail-light.
The officer smells alcohol in your car and arrests you for a DUI. Even if you don't get charged, you now have to deal with the inconvenience of proving yourself innocent. It's easier (and probably cheaper) to just keep your car in good condition.
The Name of the Game: Probable Cause
Police officers across the US require "probable cause" to pull someone over for DUI. According to the Legal Information Institute:
"Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search)."
Probable cause plays a central role in DUI cases. In a minute, we'll cover how probable cause can affect your DUI case in more detail. For now, just keep the definition in mind.
You See Sirens—Now What?
If you do get pulled over by the police, avoid panicking. Try to find a parking lot you can pull off into, and keep your turn signal on to let the cop know you see them. Keep your hands on the wheel and follow the officer's instructions when they approach your vehicle.
Always Try to Deescelate with the Police
Throughout the entire DUI process, try and be as polite as you possibly can to the police officer. You can save the attitude for after the court case. The more difficult you are, the more the officer will go out of their way to make things challenging for you.
If the officer asks you whether you've been drinking, you don't have to answer. In fact, you probably shouldn't answer. Say something like, "I invoke my constitutional right to remain silent" and sit tight.
Refuse Field Sobriety Tests
In West Virginia, you won't be penalized for refusing field sobriety tests (FSTs). Common FSTs include asking the alleged DUI offender to stand on one leg, walk a certain distance and turn, put their finger on their nose, or complete a Rhomberg test (a gait test that may indicate intoxication).
The officer might demand that you take one, and if they do, you should still refuse. The officer cannot legally force you to take an FST. Submitting to an FST can give the officer probable cause to charge you with a DUI and supply them with more ammunition for the court case. If you refuse FSTs, your lawyer has a lot more to work with.
Do Not Refuse Blood, Breath, or Urine Tests
West Virginia operates under “implied consent” laws. If you refuse a blood, breath, or urine test, you may face harsher penalties for your DUI.
For example, individuals who refuse these tests may have their license revoked for a period of one year. Additionally, refusing to submit to blood or breath tests makes you ineligible to participate in West Virginia’s DUI Deferral Program, which is one of the only ways DUI offenders can minimize the effects of a DUI in West Virginia.
To participate in the DUI Deferral Program, you must complete various actions, such as submitting a conditional guilty plea to the court for your DUI charge and installing an interlock/blow and go on your vehicle for 165 days. In short, refusing a blood or breath alcohol test could severely damage your life in the short and long-term, so it’s not recommended.
At this point, what happens next depends on the results of your test. The officer might decide to charge you with a DUI or let you go.
If you're charged with a DUI, we're here to help. Our DUI attorneys at Sutton & Janelle, PLLC, have a wealth of experience working with clients to navigate DUI cases.
To learn more, contact us online or via phone at (304) 867-0049.