12 Criminal Law Tips
for Northern Virginia College Students: Summer 2015
There are more arrests and reported criminal offenses during the summer months. This is true in many states, and is certainly true in Virginia. If you are a college student or parent with a son or daughter home for the summer, these tips are worth sharing and are meant to help readers (or their loved ones) avoid a career-derailment due to a criminal arrest record and ensuing legal consequences.
This post is not meant to provide legal advice. It is meant only to inform, educate, and raise awareness.
The 12 tips come from Fairfax criminal lawyer, Brenton D. Vincenzes. Most of the tips address a specific criminal offense, while a few provide general knowledge applicable to any encounter with law enforcement.
1. Do not hang out at a park, after dark
Pay attention to the rules posted on the signage when you enter a public park in Virginia. Fairfax County Police and other Northern Virginia law enforcement officers will not hesitate to arrest individuals for trespassing, a Class 1 misdemeanor. It is hard to believe, but true: an arrest for trespassing in a park, after dark, will result in a permanent public criminal arrest record. Depending on the outcome of the case, it may or may not be eligible for expungement (sealing the public record).
- Read more about trespassing laws in Virginia
- Learn specifically about trespassing in a park after dark
2. Do not drive or ride in a vehicle with marijuana inside
Law enforcement has the authority to search a vehicle if a marijuana odor is detected from within the passenger compartment. Not enough scrutiny is typically applied to officer training in this area. Additionally, more than one person can be charged with possessing the same marijuana, and a controlled substance does not have to be found on an individual’s person to be arrested and convicted (“constructive possession”). A pipe with residue is another way one can be charged with possession of marijuana.
Even if no marijuana is thought to be in the vehicle, it is not uncommon for police to search and find small pieces of marijuana on the floorboard, known as shake.
- Read more about Marijuana and Drug Possession
- Learn about the first-offender program for marijuana and drug possession (including our principal Fairfax criminal lawyer’s negative opinion of the program)
- Learn about the non-drug offense, but often asked about charge of, “Paraphernalia“
- Virginia marijuana laws 2015
3. Understand the key DWI laws before you are in a tough position
Never operate a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol, because although a .08 BAC is the legal intoxication mark, you can still be arrested and convicted of driving while intoxicated with a lower BAC. Many people on suspicion of DWI do not fully understand the law or their rights, and specifically this is apparent when it comes to the question:
if an officer asks me to blow, do I have to consent to submit a breath test? What if the officer tells me I will be arrested if I don’t consent?
There is a big difference between preliminary test and post-arrest tests, including your rights and consequences to the decision to consent. Read the full article here, if interested.
If an officer suspects a driver of DWI, a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) is generally offered. It is not against the law to refuse the PBT. Refusing may increase the odds of arrest, but decrease odds of conviction. The police are aware of this, and may try to encourage the driver to take the PBT by stating that the results will not be admissible in court. The truth is, while the results of the PBT are not admissible for purposes of determining guilt, consent to the test and blowing over the legal limit eviscerates (in most cases) the probability a lawyer has at having the case dismissed due to lack of probable cause to arrest, which is one of the most common ways DWI cases are won in court.
- Read the recent article, on the question, “Should I blow?” following a DWI / DUI stop in Virginia
- Read about the penalties for refusal to submit a blood or breath test, and learn when it is legal vs. illegal to not provide a sample
- Learn about the Virginia DWI laws in general, including the penalties for a 1st DUI vs. 2nd, 3rd, and elevated BAC levels
- Main DUI Page from the Firm
4. Use cruise-control function when possible
Most reckless driving charges in this area are in 55 mph zones (I-66, for example), and it is easy to hit 80 mph without realizing it.
While not the worst criminal charge, reckless driving by speed is still a hassle for the average citizen. It requires a court appearance, a conviction will blemish a person’s criminal record, the court may suspend one’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle, and jail time is possible.
- Read more about reckless driving in Virginia: general overview
- Read the article covering 5 useless defenses to reckless driving in Virginia
- Read the article covering potential defenses
- Learn about reckless driving sub-types: failure to maintain control; reckless by speed; too fast for conditions; reckless driving in a parking lot; and racing.
5. Avoid talking too much
This law professor says it best:
(Fact: Duane was Brent Vincenzes’ trial practice law professor)
Many people talk too much, try to explain their actions, and end up confessing to the police officer without realizing it.
6. Be aware: 911 calls related to domestic abuse will result in someone going to jail (almost always)
When a family or household member calls the police to report a domestic assault, one person is going away in handcuffs. Many people incorrectly think it is up to the victim to prosecute — or pursue — the criminal charge. Once arrested and charged, it is up to the Commonwealth to pursue the charge, and up to the court to decide guilt.
- Learn more about domestic assault
- Learn whether or not your case is properly before the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (or if it should be in General District instead)
- Read more about non-domestic (not involving family or household member) assault laws in Virginia
7. Avoid these problem locations
Public parking lots are often hang-out spots for teens and young adults. As a result, you can expect these areas to be monitored by law enforcement.
Convenience store parking lots are specifically monitored for drug transactions frequently.
Another location where teens and young adults find trouble: suburban neighborhoods. For whatever reason, some choose to ignore tip #2 and think they are safe parked on the side of a neighborhood street. It only takes one suspicious neighbor to lead to an officer quickly on the scene asking the driver to roll the window down.
8. Fix your broken head/tail/license plate display light(s)
Something as minor as a burned out headlight can lead to major legal issues if the driver or passenger(s) have any warrants, suspended or revoked driver’s license, or are otherwise engaged in any illegal activity, including possession of controlled substances.
9. Do not hang anything from the rear-view mirror
Police can stop a vehicle if the driver’s view is obstructed. Air-fresheners often are sold with elastic bands made for hanging from the rear-view, it seems. Avoid this. While most officers will not stop a driver for having an air-freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, some officers will stop young adults who fit a certain profile.
- Read 7 Times Police Can Search: Article
10. Avoid minors: “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” can be tacked on to an underlying charge
If over 18, you may be charged with contributing to delinquency of a minor if charged with a crime along with a friend who happens to be under age 18. A conviction could have serious long-term consequences when it comes to working with children in the future (teachers, doctors, caretakers, etc.).
11. Expunge old charges at least a year prior to your job search
Expungement is a process used to seal a public arrest record. In Virginia, it may take up to a year after a judge signs the Order for the databases to be updated.
- Significant case development allows expungement of previously un-expungeable arrests
- Read: Virginia expungements laws
- Virginia expungement infographic part 1
- Virginia expungement infographic part 2
- College students and expungements
12. Do not mix anxiety medication with alcohol.
Alcohol alone is the root of many of the criminal charges young adults face, but mixing it with prescription drugs (especially Benzodiazepines) commonly leads to memory loss and outrageous behavior.
Latest posts by Brent Vincenzes (see all)
- New Marijuana Policy and Laws for Virginia 2017 - February 13, 2017
- How should a Fairfax reckless driving lawyer object to police radar reliability? - June 13, 2016
- Poking Holes: Virginia DUI Test Problems - October 24, 2015
- How to beat a speeding ticket by attacking visual estimate of speed - August 9, 2015