Virginia Criminal Lawyer Reveals: 7 of the Worst Charges Good People Frequently Face in the Commonwealth
Based on my collective experience as a Northern Virginia criminal lawyer and Fairfax criminal attorney, these seven (7) criminal violations represent some of the most frequently charged misdemeanor offenses that professionals, students, and people with clean records face:
- reckless driving;
- assault and battery (including domestic assault);
- disorderly conduct;
- drunk in public;
- possession of marijuana,
- larceny (shoplifting); and,
- driving while intoxicated.
Northern Virginia is hardly a dangerous area, and most who live or work here feel safe.
The Commonwealth, however, is not lax on crime. In 2013, assaults, homicides, kidnappings, and abductions declined, according to data from Fairfax County Police Crime Statistics. We are fortunate to live in an area where violent crime and drugs like methamphetamine have not seriously disrupted our community to the degree these societal issues have damaged other areas around our country. Perhaps one caveat to a safe locality is increased pressure on penalizing, charging, fining, and convicting the average citizen. In Virginia, the average person is more likely to face a criminal charge than in other states in many respects (reckless driving, possession of marijuana, etc.). Take this in combination with the fact that in this area, many people have security clearances or are professionals who cannot afford to have a charge on their record or conviction, and some of the innocuous offenses like a 75 mph in a 55 mph zone criminal violation can have the potential to ruin a person’s spotless criminal record — and in some cases — a career.
Reckless Driving by Speed
Reckless driving may be the charge that causes the most headaches for out-of-state drivers. For those unfamiliar with the laws in Virginia, it can be shocking to learn that speeding 20 mph over the posted limit is the most serious type of criminal misdemeanor (Class 1), and is punishable by up to 12 months confinement and a fine of several thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the courts do not typically impose anything close to these statutory maximums except in cases of excessive speed but talk to a Fairfax reckless driving lawyer if your case is in a Northern Virginia jurisdiction to learn more (some judges impose jail time quite regularly, upon conviction of speeding in excess of 90 mph or some other threshold).
How Speed is Determined Makes a Difference
Radar and LIDAR are used by officers to catch speeding drivers in Virginia. But be careful before you pull out a radar detector, because those are illegal in the Commonwealth. Officers and Troopers are also trained to use something called the Pace method to determine a driver’s speed. Depending on how the law enforcement official arrived at the conclusion that the individual was traveling at the speed alleged, an experienced Northern Virginia traffic attorney may have specific defenses available, but not others.
For more about different defense strategies, you may be interested in…
- …this article covering radar calibration laws that your Virginia reckless driving attorney should ensure have not been violated by the officer or trooper.
- For more about the PACE method by our Fairfax reckless driving lawyer and possible defenses, this article may be of interest.
If the Commonwealth does not seek jail time, then it may be possible to waive your appearance and hire an attorney to go to court in your place. The default, or general rule, however, is that if charged, one must attend court. If you are an out-of-state driver and would rather not make a trip back to Virginia, ask a local Fairfax traffic lawyer for a free consultation.
The Good News About Reckless Driving Charges (Depending on Your Facts)
If a charged driver has a relatively clean record and takes certain steps before the court date, your Fairfax reckless driving lawyer can explain his or her estimated probability of securing a particular outcome, as well as the chances that your actions before court will contribute to success for purposes reaching an agreement allowing for a guilty plea to a mere traffic citation and a small fine, or a dismissed or dropped charge.
No two cases are alike, and no attorney can guarantee results. With that said, reckless driving by speed is, in my opinion, one of the most predictable charges when it comes to providing the client with an analysis of possible outcomes and probabilities of various outcomes (assuming the attorney has accurate driving and criminal records). If an attorney guarantees a result, be advised that it is not ethical to do so, and a wise step may be to check his or her reviews online. a good website that monitors attorney ethical violations as well as allows clients to post reviews is Avvo.
Virginia Assault and Battery (and Domestic Assault)
Assault and battery, also referred to as assault, or simple assault, is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Domestic Assault, also referred to as an Assault on a Family or Household Member, is also a Class 1 misdemeanor, however, the two offenses are handled differently by the courts.
Assault and Battery (not on a household or family member)
(Non-domestic) assault is the typical charge an initial aggressor might expect to receive after getting in a minor altercation. Any touching, no matter how soft, is a battery if it is unwanted and unwarranted. An assault is placing one in imminent apprehension or fear of an unwanted touching. Do not worry about the legal subtleties, as they should and will be discussed if relevant to your case, when you discuss the matter privately with your Northern Virginia Criminal Lawyer.
Three pointers to be cognizant of if charged with assault or assault and battery:
- In some cases, the Commonwealth may believe the most appropriate action is to drop the charge and ask the defendant to agree to something called a peace bond. A peace bond is a document signed by the defendant agreeing to refrain from something or abide by some terms imposed by the court (typically to refrain from contacting the alleged victim), and if the terms are violated, a sum of money shall be due and owing. This is a positive outcome if the defendant is offered the option (in many cases, but please consult legal counsel if you are facing a pending charge, as each case is different).
- If the alleged victim and the defendant enter into an agreement where all claims are released and the alleged victim also acknowledges in writing that he or she has received consideration for his or her injuries, then the court may dismiss the charge. This is referred to as an accord and satisfaction, and one positive aspect of this outcome is that the defendant who was charged stays eligible to expunge the arrest record.
- If the case is very serious and involves a weapon and/or motives based on race (etc.), or if the alleged victim is a police officer (or a number of other types of public servants), then the consequences can be far more serious and may be brought as a felony charge rather than a misdemeanor.
Domestic violence, or assault on a family or household member, carries the maximum statutory penalties that regular assault does, however, the two charges differ drastically:
- The court with jurisdiction over domestic violence charges is the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (as opposed to the General District Court)
- There is a first-offender option for a case dismissal upon completion of court ordered terms; however, the arrest record will not qualify for expungement.
- Whether or not the alleged victim has hired an attorney is important to knowledge for the defense.
- The rules pertaining to protective orders are important to understand, especially if there are children involved, if the party or parties are members of the U.S. Government, and much more.
- Although this is a class 1 misdemeanor just like simple assault, it is considered a more serious offense by most criminal attorneys in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Arlington, Alexandria, etc. (Northern Virginia criminal lawyers).
Disorderly conduct is an oddball charge. It is a special charge, in that it is reserved for acts not punishable by other criminal code sections or laws. The law itself punishes behavior that is meant to incite violence, or cause public annoyance among other strange verbiage (read the statute here), and learn more about it here).
Disorderly conduct is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and depending upon the facts of the case and prior record of the accused, may result in no jail time, suspended time, or 12 months confinement. The fine ranges as well. Sometimes, the goal of a negotiation is to walk out of the room with an amended charge. For example, a drug charge can jeopardize college financial assistance and loan eligibility. If a Virginia defense attorney is able to negotiate a plea agreement to allow his client to plead guilty to something such as disorderly conduct, then certain non-legal repercussions may be avoided (such as the drug charge conviction’s stigma), loss of driving privileges, and other hardships. Furthermore, when a charge is amended (and is not a lesser included offense), then the charge may qualify for expungement. Not every prosecutor will agree to offer anything other than the first offender program, but as time goes on I have noticed more and more prosecutors opening up to new creative agreements and dispositions.
Drunk in Public – Public Intoxication
Public swearing/intoxication, or as it sometimes appears on a records search, “Drunk in Public,” is the least serious offense on this list from a misdemeanor classification viewpoint. However, many people hire a Virginia defense attorney to handle their drunk in public charge, because it looks unprofessional and will remain on that person’s public record for life if it is prepaid or if it results in a finding of guilt. Read more about the expungement process.
Some Northern Virginia, Fairfax criminal lawyers and Arlington criminal attorneys who handle many public intoxication and drunk in public charges can help their clients find ways to take certain actions prior to their hearing, in order to better improve their position, as far as showing the Commonwealth and the Court that leniency is deserved.
Public Intoxication / Drunk in Public is a Class 4 misdemeanor. One of the strangest things about this charge? People often are hauled off to jail for the night, yet the charge itself is not punishable by any jail sentence. I would say that people hire an attorney to represent them when charged with public intoxication for one or both of the following:
- They ultimately plan on expunging the charge; and/or
- They believe they are not guilty and due to principle, wish to fight the charge.
Possession of Marijuana in Virginia
Marijuana is still illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it is considered a drug offense. As a result, there are several things everyone should be aware of, even if they are non-smokers. Since marijuana is so common – even in Northern Virginia – those who do not use it often inadvertently fine themselves with a friend or acquaintance who is in possession of the banned plant. Most of the Virginia marijuana possession charges involve a motor vehicle. Law enforcement officials are trained to smell burnt and unburnt marijuana, and they will rely on this to search a vehicle and/or person. It is important to understand your rights: one of the the most important thing to remember is that you have the right to refuse any search if asked. The law enforcement officer who asks permission to search does not have probable cause to carry out a search without permission at that point, or else they would not be asking permission. Every situation is different, but no one should feel pressure to consent to a search based on a mere hunch and not probable cause.
Since possession of marijuana is a drug offense, a conviction can lead to problems with financial aid. Furthermore, young adults are living in an era where securing a job on par with their skills and education is not an easy task. Any criminal record – and especially a drug arrest – can hamper a job search.
Keep in mind that if charged with possession of marijuana as a first offense, the first offender program (also referred to as a 251 disposition) may allow you to eventually have the charge dismissed.
As a Virginia defense attorney and Fairfax criminal lawyer who handles a relatively large number of possession of marijuana cases in Northern Virginia, I only think the first offender program is appropriate for certain clients. It is not for everyone. Be sure to talk to a lawyer about your goals if charged.
One of the most important things to be aware of about the first offender program is that it will not allow for the defendant to later qualify for expungement of the arrest record. In other words, although the charge will be dismissed upon completion of the program’s terms, the original charge will remain forever and nothing can be done to remove it from public view. Sometimes, the first offender program is all that is on the table (there are many reasons, factors, and often it depends on the jurisdiction and the time frame), and the best person to explain to you the current criminal justice climate in a particular jurisdiction is a local Fairfax criminal lawyer and Northern Virginia defense attorney.
Larceny is the taking and carrying away of personal property belonging to another with the intent element being one of permanent deprivation. Larceny is a misdemeanor if it is the shoplifting variety and the value is alleged to be less than $200. Certain stores tend to take shoplifting cases more seriously than others.
Some retailers (I will not mention names, obviously) are diligent and others are not, when it comes to arriving to court on-time, or at all. The large department stores everyone is likely familiar with all take shoplifting very seriously and typically their loss prevention officer or security guard on-duty the day of the alleged offense will usually show up and seek prosecution.
The jurisdiction where the offense is alleged to have occurred is very important in Northern Virginia petit larceny and shoplifting cases. Some jurisdictions routinely and regularly impose jail time for nearly all petit larceny convictions. Other jurisdictions prefer to impose suspended sentences upon conviction as a general standard — but again, all cases are different ,and one fact could change an entire outlook or case analysis.
Similar to some of the other crimes discussed on this page, there are some clients who would benefit from taking specific actions before court. Ask your local Fairfax criminal attorney and Northern VA defense lawyer if any such actions are advisable.
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is unlike Reckless Driving in the sense that even out-of-state drivers are aware of how serious it is to be accused of, or charged with a violation of a DWI law in any jurisdiction.
Like many other states, a driver will be arrested if he or she is found to have a blood alcohol content level reading of .08 or more. Many people do not know that in Virginia, it is possible to be charged and convicted of DWI even if the level is less than .08. Any intoxicating substance (even otherwise legal substances), can be the basis for a DWI arrest, charge, and conviction.
Driving while intoxicated may very well result in jail. For many people, however, jail time can be avoided if it is a first offense and if the blood alcohol level is not over a specific threshold. Always consult an attorney when faced with a DWI charge.
Other Common Charges
The following are also very common criminal charges in Northern Virginia: driving on suspended license; driving while revoked (due to DWI conviction(s)); driving without a valid operator’s license; destruction of property; and trespassing.
Most of the people who come to me for help with a criminal charge are professionals or students. A data analysis of arrest records in Fairfax County, for example, revealed an almost equal number of charges filed for possession of marijuana as reckless driving during the time frame studied. The typical client tends to be concerned with potential penalties (fines and jail time), but equally or more concerned about their criminal record and often, preserving the ability to expunge the charge after the case is resolved.
If you or a loved one needs to speak with a defense attorney, I suggest calling Vincenzes Law, PLLC, to talk to a Virginia Criminal Lawyer and to receive a free consultation. A Fairfax criminal lawyer and Northern Virginia defense attorney can explain whether or not we are able to assist, and if so, how we believe the potential client will be left in a better position after the case has been resolved. Please call 703.665.3719 to request a consultation by phone.
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