(DRUNK IN PUBLIC, UNDERAGE POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL, OR INDIVIDUALS UNDER 21 IN POSSESSION OF A FAKE ID)
Like any criminal offense, when you are charged with an alcohol offense, you have the right to enter a not guilty plea and require that the government prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In charges such as underage possession of alcohol, the government must prove all of the elements of the offense: you are in fact underage, the substance was indeed alcohol and that you exercised dominion and control of the alcohol illegally. However, in many cases you may have confessed or there may be little doubt of your guilt.
In Montgomery County, the two General District Court judges who regularly preside have a program for first- time offenders in alcohol-related offenses. You are not required to be represented by an attorney to avail yourself of this program. Typically, at the beginning of the docket a worker from the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) will ask those present if they wish to seek first offender treatment. In the majority of cases, the defendant is required to attend an eight- week program consisting of weekly two-hour classes, in addition to community service requirements. If the defendant completes the VASAP program and the community service and has no further offenses, the charge will be dismissed with no further required court appearances. However, there are instances when a substitute judge presides over court. That judge may opt against offering the first-offender program. Further, if the prosecutor or arresting officer object to utilization of the program, the Court will hold a hearing to determine whether the first-offender program is appropriate. Even though individuals may be eligible for first offender treatment, they often wish to hire me to guide them through the process, fully explain to them the programs and provide advice to assist them in avoiding some of the common pitfalls which can occur.
A defendant who has had previous alcohol-related offenses is typically not eligible for the program. If you are charged with a second or subsequent offense, you should retain the services
of an attorney. Conviction could result in the loss of your driving privileges for up to six months, fines, and the possibility of jail time.
DUI offenses and all other offenses
It is my belief that a DUI conviction can carry more severe consequences than many other misdemeanor convictions: loss of drivers license for up to 12 months on first offense and up to three years for a second offense, potential mandatory jail time depending on blood alcohol content on first offense, potential long term effects on automobile insurance rates, and the potential requirement of an interlock device on any vehicle you may operate. In my opinion, no one should face a DUI charge without the assistance of experienced counsel.
A DUI charge can have many complex factors such as whether the officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle, whether the person who operates the breathalyzer or who draws samples for a blood test is qualified to do so, and whether the officer complied with Virginia’s implied consent law.
A third or subsequent DUI can be charged as a felony, carrying a possible prison sentence and loss of drivers license for indefinite period of time.