While most drivers make a plan to get home safely, in reality, the best laid plans can lead to a traffic stop. Often, answers to seemingly simple, routine officer questions, pave the way to a criminal charge and conviction.  The top 5 questions, commonly-asked by police officers that, if answered by you, will likely lead to a criminal charge and conviction are:

  1. Do you know why I stopped you?

  2. How fast do you think you were going?

  3. Do you know the speed limit on this road?

  4. Have you had anything to drink/How much have you had to drink?

  5. Do you have anything in the car that I should know about/May I search your car?

These questions are designed to get statements for use against the driver in court.  As an example, if you are stopped because the officer suspects you are driving on a suspended license, the officer will ask if you know that your license is suspended.  Answering “yes” is enough to convict you of a misdemeanor crime.

Driving While Intoxicated

When driving, if you realize that you are even the slightest bit impaired,

  1. pull over to a safe place immediately (preferably a parking lot),

  2. remove the keys from the ignition and place them on the dashboard,

  3. call for transportation from a friend, family member, colleague, or cab.

These 3 steps may save your life and prevent a DWI conviction.  Here’s why: 

Section 18.2-266 of the Code of Virginia begins by saying, “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate any motor vehicle . . .”  Section 46.2-100 defines “operator [of a motor vehicle]” as any person who “is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on a highway.”  So, in a DWI/DUI case, the prosecutor must prove that you “drove” or “operated” the car.  This may seem like a simple concept, but Virginia courts have been debating the definition of “operate” in DWI/DUI cases for years.

Presence in or around a car when stopped is not enough to prove operation.  BUT, operation can be proven by a driver’s presence plus starting the engine, or “manipulating the mechanical or electrical equipment of the vehicle without actually putting the car in motion or engaging the machinery of the vehicle which alone, or in sequence, will activate the motive power of the vehicle.”  See Rix v. Commonwealth, 282 Va. 1 (2011).   

In the Rix case, an officer saw a vehicle “weaving” on the highway and stopped the car.  While doing so, he saw the driver exchange seats with the front-seat passenger.  The driver, who had been behind the steering wheel while the car was in motion, was in the passenger seat when the officer reached the car.  The former passenger was Ellen Marie Rix (the defendant) whom the officer found sitting in the driver's seat behind the steering wheel.  The keys were in the ignition and the engine was running.  At trial, the original driver admitted she was driving the car initially and switch seats at the last minute.  The Supreme Court of Virginia still concluded that because the officer observed Ms. Rix in the driver’s seat, with the keys in the ignition she “operated” the motor vehicle and was, therefore, guilty of DWI. 

In another 2011 case decided before Rix, police found the defendant slumped over the steering wheel of his car, parked in a residential neighborhood, asleep or unconscious.  The car's radio was playing but the engine was not running and the ignition key was turned to the position that allowed the radio to operate while the engine was not running.  The gearshift was in the “park” position.  The Virginia Supreme Court opined the defendant was “operating” the vehicle, even when unconscious because, by turning the ignition key to the “on” or “accessory” position, allowing the radio to operate, he had manipulated the electrical equipment of the vehicle.  281 Va. 212 (2011)

Drunk driving is a very serious offense, and a conviction can result in severe penalties, including the loss of your driving privileges, substantial fines and possible jail time. It is important that you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer representing you from the start. Fairfax DUI and DWI defense attorney Melinda VanLowe represents clients in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., who are facing charges for a drunk driving offense.

Ms. VanLowe conducts a thorough investigation of your case to determine if your rights were violated at any point during the traffic stop.  Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be possible to challenge the validity of the initial traffic stop, the accuracy of the tests that measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and other aspects of the prosecution's case.  Ms. VanLowe works to suppress illegally obtained evidence and will be there with you from the investigatory stage through trial, if necessary.

Traffic Offense Attorney

In Virginia, driving 1 to 19 miles per hour over the speed limit is speeding.  The penalties for this traffic infraction are a fine and the application of negative points on your Virginia driving record:

  • 3 points for driving 1 to 9 miles per hour over the speed limit.

  • 4 points for driving 10 to 19 miles per hour over the speed limit.

  • 6 points for driving 20 or more miles per hour over the speed limit.

Reckless driving is a criminal misdemeanor that occurs when driving 20 miles per hour over the maximum speed limit, driving over 80 miles per hour or, irrespective of the maximum speed limit, driving in a manner that endangers the life, limb or property of any person (including the driver).  Reckless driving carries a maximum punishment of 12 months of incarceration, a $2,500 fine, and a 6-month license suspension.  6 negative points will also be applied to your Virginia driving record. 

Ms. VanLowe defends clients against Virginia and federal traffic violation cases and works to avoid the conviction and demerit points.

I hired Ms. VanLowe to represent me for a reckless driving charge and it was the best decision I could have made. She’s very professional and exudes a calm and confidence that immediately put me ease. I highly recommend her.
— S.B. in Arlington

The firm defends clients against the following types of traffic violations:

  • Reckless driving

  • Driving on a revoked or suspended license

  • Driving without a license

  • Speeding

  • Hit-and-run/leaving the scene of an accident

Contact The Law Office Of Melinda L. VanLowe, PC

Please contact Ms. VanLowe to schedule a free consultation regarding your DUI/DWI or traffic violation defense needs.