12 Criminal Law Tips for Northern VA Students this Summer

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.

Arlington and Fairfax Criminal Lawyer Tips for College Students Summer 2015

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).

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.

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.

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.

kids home from college

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.

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.

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.

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.


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Brenton D. Vincenzes is a lifelong Fairfax County resident and Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer. He is a member of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National College of DUI Defense, NORML, and has been awarded the following in 2014-15: Top 100 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Nationally Ranked Top 10 Under 40 Defense Attorney (National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys) 10 Best in Client Satisfaction for Criminal Defense (American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys) Nationally Ranked Top 1% Attorney Award Recipient (National Association of Distinguished Counsel) As a local leader, Mr. Vincenzes mentors troubled youths, volunteers his time to serve at his church, takes select pro bono clients, and strives to improve the community. Mr. Vincenzes represents men, women, and juveniles through zealous and diligent advocacy, strategic planning, and skilled trial work preparation. Mr. Vincenzes' areas of criminal law practice are broad, and include most felonies and misdemeanors such as: reckless driving, DUI & DWI, drug offenses, assault and battery, domestic violence, assault on an officer, destruction of property, alcohol offenses, firearm offenses, larceny, shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and other theft offenses, and moving traffic violations among others. His private legal services are available in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, Arlington County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Stafford County, Alexandria, Manassas, Leesburg, South Riding, and other cities and towns.


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