What’s the Difference Between DUI and DWI in Virginia?

DUI and DWI are simply shorthand terms which refer to certain laws against dangerous driving. In Virginia, both are covered under the same Code section.
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by | Last updated Feb 10, 2020 | Published on Aug 15, 2019 | Virginia Traffic Law

“Driving under the influence” (DUI) and “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) are simply shorthand terms which refer to specific state laws against dangerous driving.

In Virginia, these terms both refer to Virginia Code § 18.2-266, which criminalizes operating any vehicle:

  1. With a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more.
  2. While “under the influence of alcohol” to a degree which impairs your ability to drive.
  3. While under the influence of any drug whatsoever, or any combination of drugs, to a degree which impairs your ability to drive.
  4. When you are under the combined influence of both drugs and alcohol.
  5. While having a certain concentration of drugs in your blood, such as 0.02 milligrams of cocaine per liter of blood.

Since DUI and DWI are charged under the same code section, there are very few noticeable distinctions between them.

Both are charged in the same way, and both have the same consequences, including license suspension, fines, and even jail time.

From a legal perspective, the only thing that matters is your choice to drive while under the effects of some inhibiting substance.

Everything else is simply arguing over semantics.

However, there are still a few minor procedural differences between DUI and DWI which you should be aware of.

The remainder of this article will outline the basics of these differences.

DUI and DWI: Why Procedural Differences Matter

Patrol police car with emergency sirens lights.

Police officers have to follow specific procedures when conducting traffic stops.

For example, if an officer sees a car swerving from lane to lane, they will likely pull the person over on the suspicion that they are driving while impaired by something.

During the stop, the officer may then administer a variety of field sobriety tests to determine (1) whether or not their suspicions were correct, and, if their suspicions are correct, (2) what the individual is under the influence of.

For example, if they suspect that the individual was driving while drunk, the officer may ask them to perform a field sobriety test (like walking heel-to-toe).

The officer may also administer a preliminary breathalyzer test to quickly check the driver’s BAC, though courts generally don’t accept these tests as evidence of DUI.

If the officer finds sufficient evidence that the individual was committing a crime under the above-noted code section (regardless of whether the substance was alcohol or drugs), they will arrest the driver for DUI.

However, even if the preliminary breathalyzer test comes back negative, the officer can still arrest the individual for driving under the influence.

Remember, the Virginia Code criminalizes driving dangerously due to the influence of various inhibiting substances.

Proving that an individual is legally intoxicated is simply a part of this process.

Probable Cause and Police Searches in Virginia

If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you were driving under the influence of alcohol, they will arrest you.

Then, you’ll have to take a more thorough breathalyzer test at the police station.

However, if the officer suspects that you were instead under the effects of a drug, they may take a different approach.

Notably:

  • The officer may search the car or your person for evidence of drug use (such as drug residue or drug paraphernalia).
  • The officer will conduct a blood test in addition to a breathalyzer test to determine both the type and quantity of drugs in your system.

In this way, the largest (and in most cases only) difference between DUI and DWI lies in how the officer decides to test you when you arrive at the station.

If they suspect that you’ve been drinking, they’ll administer a more thorough breathalyzer test at the police station.

However, if they suspect that drugs are involved, they may also choose to draw blood for blood tests.

Finally, remember that neither of these tests requires a search warrant, as they are both covered under Virginia’s implied consent law.

Conclusion

Adult man looking at laptop at home.

Unlike some other states, DUI and DWI both fall under the same section in the Virginia Code.

Further, each crime carries the same punishment.

One key difference between the two is that driving while under the influence of drugs gives the arresting officer probable cause to search your person and vehicle for drugs, as well as draw blood for future blood tests.

This can lead to additional charges for drug possession, as well as charges for a variety of other crimes (such as if they find weapons in your vehicle).

Another key difference lies in how the officers process you at the police station.

For example, officers will usually only draw your blood if they suspect that you have drugs in your system.

Regardless of the terminology you use, you need to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight the charges in court.

By hiring an attorney, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of receiving a favorable outcome in your case.

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Jessica Wildeus

Jessica primarily assists clients with criminal and family law needs. She is committed to a client-centered practice and to equipping her clients with the knowledge they need to navigate the legal system effectively. Read More.

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