UPDATE June 25, 2014:
All First Offense DUI and DWI Cases in Virginia Beach will be handled by the Commonwealth Attorney Office — And What It Really Means For Those Facing a First Time DUI in Va Beach.
In Virginia Beach, starting on July 1st. The Commonwealth Attorney Office (i.e. prosecutor’s office) will be involved in all DUI and DWI cases. Before July 1st, the charging officer would handle on his own, without assistance from a prosecutor, all first offense DUI cases. However, if a case involved 2nd or subsequent offense, involved a blood sample, or an accident the officer would typically request assistance.
So what does it really mean, in regarding a DUI case, to have a prosecutor on the other side for first time DUIs? In my opinion, there are benefits and a couple disadvantages.
The main benefit is that the prosecutors in Virginia Beach often provide the DUI checklist as part of discovery. The DUI checklist is the document prepared by the officer that details the interaction with the defendant and contains very valuable information (reason for stop, what FSTs where performed, may reveal errors in the DUI investigation and so on). Essentially, it allows the defense an opportunity to build a case based on the Commonwealth’s case before trial.
The disadvantage is that instead of having an officer just providing testimony at trial, there will be now an attorney on their side who knows the law and can argue it, can do cross examination of the defendant (if the defendant decides to testify) and also make argument at closing.
The description above may sound discouraging if you are faced with a DUI or DWI in Virginia Beach, but in my honest opinion it doesn’t concern me that there may be a prosecutor for all drunk driving cases in VA Beach. My impression of the Virginia Beach prosecutors as a whole, like in the other Hampton Roads cities, is that even though they handle a lot of DUI cases, most of those involve a defense attorney, whether private or Public defender, just pleading it out. As such, the prosecutors have limited experience trying cases. With that in my mind, the fact there may be a prosecutor on the other side is not as important as it may appear.
Defending a DUI in Virginia Beach, the Pros and Cons
If you been charged with a DWI in the city of Virginia Beach, you probably have a lot of questions. The purpose of the below discussion is to give you a realistic introduction to a typical trial and possible advantages and disadvantages of handling a case in Virginia Beach. Due to the inherent structural weakness that exists in how a DUI trial is conducted in Virginia Beach, it is imperative that you have an experienced DUI lawyer defend you so to take maximum advantage of this weakness. When you are ready, call the law firm for a free initial consultation.
Virginia Beach DUI, an Introduction
Virginia Beach is the largest city in the Commonwealth. The city has close to half a million residents and millions of tourists visit annually. With multiple lively nightlife spots, from Town Center to the Ocean Front, when night falls, the police are on the lookout for suspected drunk drivers. In fact, local law enforcement arrests thousands of people for DWI and DUI each year.
Getting a DWI in Va Beach is a serious matter. Not only is it a class 1 criminal misdemeanor charge that if convicted would not only result in a permanent criminal record, but it can result in up to 1 year in jail, fines of up to $2,500 and automatic suspension of license for 1 year. In addition, conviction requires attendance of ASAP and installing of an interlock ignition system for at least 6 months. Additional penalties can result if charged with a second or greater offense or if BAC is .15 or above. For a full description of penalties go here.
DUI Trial in Virginia Beach, A Double Edge Sword
The most unique aspect of a DUI trial in Virginia Beach is that there typically is no prosecutor handling the case in General District Court. Unlike other Hampton Roads cities, the arresting officer will be the one trying the case for the state. That tends to be a benefit in the hands of an experienced DUI attorney. The arresting officer is not an attorney and is limited in their knowledge of substantive law and procedure.
The main disadvantage of the arresting officer handling the DUI case without the assistance of a prosecutor, is that arresting officers are less likely to do a plea deal compared to a prosecutor. With that said there are possible methods in trying to get a prosecutor involved in a DUI case.
The other systemic disadvantage for the defense in Virginia Beach is that the judges are known to be the strictest and toughest adjudicators in all of the state.
Judges in Virginia Beach do give active jail time for first time offenders with a BAC below .15. You need an experienced DUI attorney to give you the best opportunity to defend you against a DUI charge and minimize the risk of losing your freedom.