The Virginia General Assembly passed in early September 2019 House Bill (HB) 1941. This bill, named Driving while intoxicated or operating watercraft while intoxicated; maiming, etc., of another (DUI Maiming), will make penalties more severe for persons charged and convicted under it. The bill will go into effect July 1, 2020, if the governor signs it into law.
What does this mean for DUI law and alleged DUI offenders in Virginia? How will HB 1941 change the current law? Here, we provide a brief overview. The change may seem minor, but the impact can be life-altering.
How Will HB 1941 Change Current DUI Laws in Virginia?
Currently, § 18.2-51.4, Maiming, etc., of Another Resulting from Driving While Intoxicated, is a Class 6 felony that requires each of the following four elements to be proven before a conviction can be realized:
- You drove while intoxicated
- in a manner so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life, and
- unintentionally caused serious bodily injury to another person, and
- the bodily injury resulted in permanent and significant physical impairment.
If one of the above elements is missing, then you may be charged with a lesser offense, like a first-time DWI, which is a misdemeanor and carries little jail time. If all of the elements are present, then you face up to 5 years in prison. Depending on the circumstances and who you are, either scenario can be devastating.
But it is about to get worse.
There will be two specific changes to the current law that can impact a person's life dramatically:
- Under the above circumstances, if all four elements are present, the classification of the crime will be increased from a Class 6 felony to a Class 4 felony. That means a significant increase in the maximum sentence, which is 10 years for Class 4 felonies – the minimum sentence is 2 years in prison. Consider, too, that this is a higher felony than involuntary manslaughter, which is usually charged as a Class 5 felony.
- If all of the above elements except number 4 are present, then the crime is a Class 6 felony. That means, next July, under the same circumstances that result in a misdemeanor crime today, you will instead face a felony. A felony conviction results in harsher court-ordered sentencing and collateral consequences, like difficulty finding a job or housing and obtaining loans or security clearances.
Remember, DUIs are not intentional crimes – no one charged with it intends to hurt anyone. Increasing the penalties as they are in HB 1941 can seriously impact the lives of otherwise good citizens who never intended to do harm to anyone.
What Should You Do if Charged with a Virginia DUI after Causing an Accident?
If you were charged with a DUI and charged with causing an accident where someone of seriously injured, your first step once you are able to do it is this: get a skilled, aggressive, smart DUI defense attorney in Virginia.
You need an attorney knowledgeable about Virginia DUI law and the technical and scientific aspects of field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests. You also need a resourceful attorney who can thoroughly investigate and obtain an accurate report on the cause of the accident so that you are not erroneously charged with DUI maiming. This attorney must be able to put the evidence and defense strategies together coherently and persuasively to produce the best outcome for you, especially when the new law takes effect.