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Innocent Until Proven Guilty Principle Lost on Virginia DUIs

In Virginia as well as throughout the United States, our legal system – in theory – is set up so that a person charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Theory or not, this legal principle – foundational to our legal system – is lost on persons arrested for drunk driving. This “exception” to the innocent until proven guilty doctrine is known as a rebuttable presumption. Here’s what you should know about it in the District of Columbia and Virginia metro area. 

WHAT DOES REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION MEAN IN VIRGINIA DUI CASES?

Rebuttable presumption basically means you are presumed guilty but can rebut the presumption. This legal doctrine applies primarily to DUI laws. In most states, including Virginia, you can be convicted of a DUI if the prosecutor proves you:

  • have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more; or
  • are under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or
  • are under the influence of any other intoxicant that can impair your faculties so much that it impairs your ability to operate a vehicle.

The presumption in the above is that you are intoxicated simply because you have a BAC of .08% or more. Here’s an example to express what this means.

EXAMPLE OF REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION

You are driving to your D.C. home from dinner in Old Town Alexandria with expired registration tags. An officer pulls you over because of the latter. You do not feel as though you are illegally intoxicated. You exhibit no signs of intoxication other than the smell of alcohol. The officer still asks that you perform a field sobriety test (FST), which you pass. The officer then asks you to submit to a preliminary breathalyzer test (PBT). Here, one of two basic things can happen:

  1. The PBT results in .06% BAC, and so – with no other signs of intoxication present – the officer tickets you for the registration tags but does not pursue a DUI arrest.
  2. The PBT results in .08% BAC, and so – even though there are no other indications of intoxication – the officer presumes you are illegally intoxicated and takes you into custody.

Just because your PBT result is .08% BAC, you are presumed guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. 

HOW DO YOU REBUT THE PRESUMPTION YOU ARE GUILTY OF A DUI IN VIRGINIA?

Even though you are presumed guilty, you can rebut the presumption. To be sure: DUIs in Virginia and the District of Columbia can be successfully defended. So, do not get caught up in the trap that just because a PBT records your BAC as .08% or greater, you will be found guilty. This thinking often leads people to surrender their right to defend themselves and instead plead guilty. You should defend yourself. 

An experienced DUI attorney in the Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, VA metro area will challenge the results of FSTs and PBTs because they are unscientific and generally unreliable. An experienced DUI attorney will also challenge any breath or blood test performed after a DUI arrest – these too can be faulty or mishandled due to a number of reasons.

Always speak to an experienced Virginia/D.C. DUI attorney and rebut the presumption because you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and a good DUI attorney will hold the state, the judge, and the jury accountable.

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