DUIs are crimes committed by people just like you and me. We are lawyers, janitors, teachers, doctors, police officers, sales clerks, and many more. For first-time offenders, a DUI can mean jail time, but it depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the DUI event, any plea deal, the judge and the jury, how strong the state's case is against you, and how strong your defense attorney argues on your behalf.
Many first-time offenders, however, won't spend a day in jail upon a DUI conviction. And to many, that sounds pretty good. But what it may mean is that your jail sentence was suspended. That, too, may sound good, but there's more to the story. What does a suspended sentence mean for a DUI? Here, we shed a little light on it.
Can a Judge Suspend a DUI Offender's Jail Sentence in Virginia?
When you are convicted of a DUI, the judge will review the recommendations made by the prosecutor, your attorney, and any mitigating or aggravating factors. Upon review, the judge will determine your sentence. The sentence could include anything from fines to jail or prison time to probation to drug and/or alcohol treatment – so long as it is within the sentencing guidelines for the specific DUI offense in Virginia.
For a first-offense DUI, with no aggravating factors, the offense is charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor. This offense carries a fine of up to $2,500 and a jail sentence of up to 12 months. There is no mandatory minimum jail sentence. That means you could get no jail time, period. On the other hand, if you have a criminal record – a conviction of any other type of offense – or the judge for some reason believes you should serve time, the judge can order you to jail for up to 12 months. Say, for example, you are ordered to jail for 60 days. The judge can suspend your jail sentence for either part or the whole amount.
Some may ask: why give a jail sentence at all if it will be suspended?
There is a reason, and it's one you must understand so that you don't make any mistakes and end up having to serve those 60 days in jail.
What Does It Mean to Have Your DUI Jail Sentence Suspended in Virginia?
Suspended jail time is basically time in jail you do not serve so long as you adhere to certain conditions. These conditions often include things like:
payment of all fines and court fees
substance abuse classes and/or treatment
restitution, if there was a victim
commission of no crimes.
Suspension is akin to a security mechanism for the court system. It basically gives you a chance to stay "clean," and as a result, allows you to engage in your normal day-to-day life. But, in the event you fail successfully adhere to these conditions, it allows the court the opportunity to punish you as it would have but this opportunity to stay "clean."
In other words, if you fail to meet the conditions, you could find yourself behind bars for the allotted number of days.
There is one caveat: these conditions could be forced on you not for the same length of time the jail suspension is but for a period a period much longer than the sentence. For example, a 60-day suspended jail sentence could be in effect for one year or more. That's a burden many people don't realize at first – until not adhering to the conditions (including paying any applicable monthly fees) starts to wear down on them. One mishap over a long period of time could yield jail time.
When Convicted of A DUI with A Mandatory Minimum, Can the Jail Sentence Still Be Suspended in Virginia?
When you are convicted of a DUI (or another crime, for that matter) and the sentencing guidelines has a mandatory minimum, the judge cannot suspend the mandatory minimum time in jail. The judge can, however, suspend any jail time in addition to the mandatory jail time.
For example, if you are convicted of a second DUI in Charlottesville, you must spend a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail. The judge could order an additional 60 days in jail but suspend 30 of those days. Regardless of any jail suspension, you must spend 10 days behind bars.
Other DUI convictions that carry mandatory minimum incarceration sentences include:
fourth-offense DUI; and
DUI with a BAC of .15% or higher.
Your best bet is to not get a conviction if staying out of jail is your primary goal. That means hiring an experienced DUI attorney in Charlottesville who has the experience and resources to successfully challenge the prosecutor. Though all cases are different, and a suspended jail sentence may be your best chance – it's always best to consult with a DUI attorney about any DUI charges you face.