When I came to Virginia as first year law student I knew Virginia was notorious for its strict laws and severe punishments. But the Old Dominion should come with warning labels.
As a Fairfax County criminal defense attorney, I have helped a lot of college students who made serious mistakes because they did not understand Virginia’s strict criminal laws. Someone who is just starting out their adult life should not have to learn life’s lessons in handcuffs. To that end, this article address the ten most common ways I see students getting ambushed by Virginia’s laws.
First: in Virginia, criminal records are forever. If you get convicted of a crime in Virginia it will remain on your criminal record forever. In Virginia, you cannot expunge a conviction from your record. Even juvenile convictions will remain on your record forever. Just because your juvenile record is not public does not mean it is a secret. In Virginia, your juvenile record is available to law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and a juvenile record can be used against you in court.
Second: Reckless driving by speed (Va. Code 46.2-862). In Virginia, driving faster than 80 mph or more than 20 mph over the speed limit is a criminal offense called reckless driving. Reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor (the same as DUI and assault & battery). It is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a 6 month loss of license, and $2,500 in fines. Fairfax County writes up to 60 reckless driving tickets a day and routinely jails drivers who go faster than 90 mphs.
Third: Having a Fake ID (Va. Code 46.2-346). Simply having a fake ID on you may be enough to get you arrested even if you never use it. Possessing an expired, fake, or altered driver’s license in order to break the law; using someone else’s driver’s license as your own; or not surrendering your own license after it is suspended is a criminal offense that can result in up to 6 months in jail. If the fake ID contains another person’s information (driver’s license number, date of birth, or name ect.) then you may be charge with the more serious crime of identity theft.
Fourth: Virginia residents who drive with an out-of-state license for more than 60 days are committing a crime. If you reside in Virginia you can use your out-of-state license for only 60 days before it becomes invalid (Va. Code 46.2-308). Once your out-of-state license is invalid in Virginia, driving here is a criminal offense under Va. Code 46.2-300. If you are a Virginia resident you must get a Virginia license within 60 days.
Fifth: Under-age possession of alcohol (Va. Code 4.1-305). Drinking or possession alcohol if you are not 21 is a serious criminal offense in Virginia. The law requires some harsh minimum punishment. A judge must suspend your license for 6 months to 1 year, order $500 to $2,500 in fines or 50 hours of community service, and may give up to 12 months in jail.
Sixth: Underage or “Baby" DUI (Va Code 18.2-266.1). If you are under 21 years old and you drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of just .02 or more then you are guilty of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Virginia. The average sized adult male can reach a BAC of .02 with less than two beers. The punishments for underage DUI is up to 12 months in jail, probation for 1 year, 1 year loss of your license, alcohol treatment for 10 weeks minimum, and either $500-$2,500 in fines or 50 hours community service. If you are not 21 and you have had anything to drink you must not drive in Virginia.
Seventh: Public Intoxication (Va. Code 18.2-388), being intoxicated in public is a crime everyone knows about; however, what they don’t realize is that cops believe “public" means just about anywhere including in a car, outside a bar, or in the common area of a dorm. Also people don’t realize that Virginia law defines “intoxication" under very broadly. If an officer can observe any symptoms of drugs or alcohol in your system then you can be arrested for public intoxication.
Eighth: Sexting and child pornography. When it comes to child pornography, anyone under the age of 18 is a “child". Sexting with a minor is extremely dangerous! Making or encouraging the taking of dirty images of a minor is called felony production of child pornography (Va. code 18.2-374.1). Possessing such images on your phone or computer is a separate felony under Va. Code 18.2-374.1:1(A). Copying, sharing, emailing, posting, or showing those same images is another felony [Va. Code 18.2-374.1:1(C)]. And each image is a separate charge for production, possession, and distribution. A college student who takes two dirty photos of his 17 year old girlfriend and emails them to himself has committed six felonies and can be sentenced to 10 - 90 years in prison. The state of Virginia has and will continue to prosecute minors and adults for underage sexting.
Ninth: Possession of prescription drugs without a prescription (Va. Code 18.2-250). It is a crime to possess any prescription drug without a valid prescription. The type of drug affects only the level of punishment. Most of the prescription drugs that can be used recreationally equal a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But possessing even the most benign prescription drug is a criminal offense even if you are using the drug appropriately for an actual medical condition. If you are caught with any prescription drug that is not in your own prescription bottle the police will arrest first and sort the details out later. All drug possession crimes come with mandatory 6 month loss of license.
Tenth: Synthetic marijuana, K-2 or Spice (Va. Code § 18.2-248.1:1). As of March 2011, it is illegal to possess, manufacture, distribute ect. synthetic marijuana. For several years synthetic marijuana has fallen through the legal cracks in Virginia and drugs like K-2 or Spice were openly sold online and in stores in Virginia as a “legal" alternative to marijuana. But now, synthetic marijuana is illegal and the penalties are much more severe than the penalties for regular marijuana. Several other supposedly “legal" alternative drugs have been outlawed or are in the process of being outlawed as this is being written. Never bet your future on word-of-mouth or online legal advice.
After reviewing the top ten biggest legal pitfalls for student, just remember 90% of all crimes involve sex, drugs, alcohol and/or a car. If you are going to use any of those items by themselves or in combination, make sure you know exactly what the law is and use common sense. And if that is not enough hire a good attorney.
-Luke J. Nichols
Nichols & Green pllc
Fairfax, Va 22030