Criminal Defense & Social Security Disability Law

Could Virginia’s fledgling wine industry cause an uptick in DUI/DWI charges?

Virginia’s temperate climate, sunshine, good soil and moderately high yearly rainfall average provide an excellent environment for wine grapes. The state’s wine industry has been steadily growing for several years, and now boasts the honor of being the fifth largest wine region in the nation. Obviously, a growing wine production movement is a good thing for the state, providing much-needed jobs and tourism dollars. However, if California – home of many of the nation’s most successful wineries and nearly half of all wine producers in the country – is any example, the wine region could be bringing more drunk drivers as well.

The Napa Valley area of California, home to several of the state’s best-known wineries, ranks ninth out of 58 counties in California for drunk driving arrests. This is due in no small part to the efforts of zealous police officers, but it might be infringing on the Constitutional rights of drivers if their only “suspicious behavior” was being on a road that is near a winery.

Wine region “profiling” in action?

Clearly, winery-hopping could result in someone becoming intoxicated, and some people might imbibe a bit too freely and still feel confident that they are okay to climb behind the wheel. That being the case, though, police still cannot indiscriminately pull over anyone in the area of a winery without due cause (such as the violation of a traffic law like speeding, weaving, crossing the center line, texting while driving or not wearing a seat belt).

In Virginia, like in other jurisdictions, police officers must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a driver is in violation of a law before initiating a traffic stop. Once someone has been pulled over, though, if police suspect that someone is driving under the influence, he or she could be subjected to field sobriety tests like a horizontal-gaze nystagmus test, a “walk and turn” or a one-legged stand to check for signs of impairment, or could request that the driver take a breath or blood alcohol test (although they may decline an “on the scene” test in Virginia without legal sanctions). Once people are put in that situation, some of them feel like they have no choice but to comply.

Technically, people can refuse to take a post-arrest chemical alcohol test, but that choice comes at a price. Motorists refusing to provide a breath or blood sample for alcohol testing are violating the state’s “implied consent” law, and could face several consequences, including:

  • License revocation for a year or more occurring independently of any that may be ordered if a driver is convicted of DUI/DWI.

Of course, taking a breath or blood alcohol could – depending on what the results show – come with severe consequences of its own if it leads to a conviction:

  • Hefty fines
  • Loss of driving privileges
  • A criminal record
  • Significantly higher car insurance rates
  • Installation and maintenance of an ignition interlock device
  • Jail time
  • Impounding of vehicle

Whether you were pulled over in the vicinity of one of Virginia’s wineries or not, DWI/DUI charges are serious, and you need to take action to protect your rights and minimize the consequences you face. Speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area is a great way to get more information about your legal rights and options.