Because a third DUI offense is a felony, only the preliminary hearing will be held in general district court–there are no felony jury trials in that court. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the Commonwealth to put forth evidence to allow a judge determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the person charged committed the offense. If the judge makes that finding, you are not guilty of the offense, but the case will be bound over to the Grand Jury and then will be heard in Circuit Court.
In Circuit court, you will have have a trial on your felony offense, either with or without a jury, unless you are able to reach a plea agreement with the Commonwealth before trial. You may also plea “straight up” to the judge-admitting the offenses but asking for leniency from the judge. All of that happens in circuit court. General District Court is the first stop and is only for preliminary hearing or a plea to a misdemeanor offense.
Prosecutors handle third offense DUI charges extremely seriously. In their eyes, this is someone who has endangered the community on at least three offenses within the time of ten years. They are concerned that if they don’t prosecute this vigorously that individual may go out and drive under the influence again and cause a serious accident. And if that happens, everyone will look to the person who prosecuted the third offense DUI to try to determine why this person was not in jail.
Prosecutors also view people charged with this type of offense as someone who has been unable to learn their lesson from previous convictions, so the only way to handle these cases in their eyes is to put the individual in jail for a significant period of time to ensure that, at least during the time they are in jail, they are not able to drive drunk and endanger the community. Prosecutors take all DUI charges seriously, and obviously, the third offense very seriously as well.
Third offense DUI is a class six felony. That means that if you are convicted, you will face up to five years in jail. A third offense DUI is similar to the second offense DUI in that it matters when your three offenses were committed. If your three DUI offenses were committed within a five-year period, and you are convicted of the felony offense, you’re going to face the following penalties:
If you are convicted of three DUI offenses within a period of more than five years ago, but less than ten years ago, that too is a class six felony punishable by:
If you are convicted of third offense DUI in Virginia, your license is indefinitely suspended and you must wait a long amount of time before you can apply for your license back.
Courts treat third offense DUI very, very seriously. These charges are a concern to the court because the individual has now been a danger to the community on at least three separate occasions, and has not learned their lesson from their previous DUI convictions.
If this individual is treated lightly, they may go back onto the road in an intoxicated condition and if they cause serious harm or death, the community will be looking to the court to determine why they didn’t treat the defendant more harshly. So that is a concern that judges are aware of and for that reason, they treat these cases seriously.
In a third offense DUI, your attorney should be looking at the prior convictions to make sure they are legally valid and that they really should be counted as prior convictions. For example, if the conviction is from another state, that state’s laws have to be very similar to Virginia in order to be counted as a prior conviction. That is something your attorney should be analyzing and hopefully helps build the defense for your case.