For many ordinary citizens, one of the most confusing areas of the law is that surrounding firearms. Particularly of concern is whether one can legally carry a firearm in public and if so, what restrictions are in place. Of double concern is the severity of criminal penalties for non-compliance with these laws and the tenacity with which local and state police enforce firearms laws. It is very easy, even in a gun friendly state such as Virginia, to unknowingly put yourself in a situation with firearms that results in criminal charges.
So to begin, Virginia is what’s known as an “open carry” state. This means that any individual over the age of 18, not otherwise disqualified from possessing a firearm, can carry one in public. Those who are disqualified from possessing a firearm include: convicted felons, juveniles found delinquent of felonies (in … Read More »
In recent weeks, the news has featured many stories on the growing trend of the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana use and possession. This past Election Day, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. approved measures that would legalize marijuana possession. Colorado and Washington have already legalized marijuana. Many more states, including Maryland, have either decriminalized marijuana possession, or allowed it for medical use. A record number of Americans support decriminalization/legalization of marijuana, and now corporations are even now looking into creating national brands, including one centered around a certain reggae legend.
With all that is going on nationally and the obvious shift in public opinion, one could be forgiven for thinking that attitudes in Virginia have lightened up regarding marijuana. However, such a view would be mistaken: it remains the case that even simple possession of marijuana in the Old … Read More »
One of the most commonly asked questions I receive from family, friends, and potential clients is how they should handle any encounters with the police. No one ever seems quite sure how to handle themselves since being stopped by the police, or just having an “involuntary” encounter, can be one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking experiences of someone’s life. Most believe that if they just tell their story or admit to some minor wrong-doing, the police will treat them favorably and let them off with a warning. Unfortunately, such a viewpoint has no base in reality.
So, as I’m sure you’re wondering, what should you tell the police if you find yourself in just such a situation?
That’s right, nothing. Let me repeat that: tell the police nothing. Don’t admit to anything. Don’t try to explain what happened. Don’t try to justify what … Read More »
The most common question I receive when it comes to traffic cases, whether from potential clients or friends, is “why should I hire a traffic attorney?” Most everyone knows it is a good idea to hire an attorney if you’re facing criminal charges, but many think of traffic offenses as minor matters that can be ignored. This is simply not the case and many who ignore or prepay traffic tickets end up eventually regretting that decision, once they see a huge increase in insurance premiums or find out that they now have a criminal record. Here are some of the reasons why hiring an attorney to fight your traffic ticket in Northern Virginia makes a lot of sense:
Virginia is Tough on Traffic Offenses. Virginia is very tough on traffic offenses, much more so than most of its neighbors. Sure, as in … Read More »
The relationship between mental health and the commission of crime has garnered major headlines in the last several years. High profile horrors such as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook revealed that the perpetrators of these offenses possibly suffered from very serious mental health issues. Virginians also witnessed the tragic incident involving State Senator Creigh Deeds and his son, who suffered from mental health issues.
Those were each very serious incidents involving the tragic loss of life. But what about the petit larceny or disorderly conduct committed by someone who suffers from a mental illness—the cases that don’t make the headlines?
Prince William County, Virginia is one jurisdiction that is seeking to change the way the justice system operates for people suffering from mental illness. Prince William has established a special docket, known as DIVERT, in its general district court. … Read More »
One of the key issues for defense attorneys at trial is limiting the focus of the prosecution’s evidence to evidence of the offense charged, and preventing the admission of any evidence of other prior charges, convictions, or bad acts of the defendant. This task is made somewhat easier in Virginia by our longstanding rule against evidence being admitted solely to prove the general criminal propensity of the defendant.
Rule 2:404 of the Virginia Rules of Evidence states that “evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion.” We have that rule to protect defendants from the inference that results from the entry of evidence of prior bad acts: that the defendant has a propensity to commit criminal acts.
Virginia Rule 2:404 protects defendants by generally prohibiting that … Read More »
In the moments after being arrested and charged with a criminal offense, many defendants are singularly focused on one question: when will they get out of jail?A lot of confusion exists among defendants and their families over the bond/bail process and what can and cannot be done by the defendant, their attorney, and the court. A basic understanding of how bond works in Virginia can alleviate a lot of that confusion, and place defendants and their loved ones in the best position going forward.
To begin, while they are often used interchangeably, the terms “bail” and “bond” do have different meanings in Virginia:
Bail is the pretrial release of a person upon certain terms or conditions set by a judicial officer.
Bond is the actual posting or promise to pay a specific sum as ordered by a judicial officer to assure a defendant’s compliance with the … Read More »
That Is the Question for Many Criminal Defendants
The world of criminal defense has been abuzz lately regarding a unique plea deal that was struck last month in Shenandoah County, Virginia. In that case, the defendant, Jessie Herald, was facing five charges: felony child endangerment, felony hit and run, misdemeanor failure to provide medical attention to an injured child, misdemeanor driving on a suspended license, and misdemeanor driving after forfeiture of his license. In exchange for dropping two misdemeanors, he agreed as part of his terms of probation to get a vasectomy. The defendant had fathered multiple children and the prosecutor deemed it would be in the Commonwealth’s best interests for him to have a vasectomy. The decision has been controversial among the legal community of where the line should be drawn in what is acceptable in a plea deal.
While most … Read More »
In our highly politicized and pluralistic world, consensus often comes with a shock. Debates are argued not necessarily by the brightest advocates for a position, but by the loudest or most intense. Legislation always feels like it is passed by party line. And popular convention extends the same to the United States Supreme Court: that there are four justices who all agree one way, four who agree inapposite, and one deciding swing vote every time. If you just observe superficially, every Supreme Court decision is a 5-4 affair. So when the justices return a 9-0 decision, it comes as a shock to many. And the same superficial observation has us give a 9-0 ruling more weight than a 5-4 decision. On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court issued one of these seemingly rare unanimous decisions, answering a question of utmost importance: whether … Read More »
The criminal bar has been abuzz with the recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court in Starrs v. Commonwealth, 287 Va. 1, 752 S.E.2d 812 (2014). In the Commonwealth of Virginia, just as in our federal system, two separate branches of government have the power to effect change in our laws and often wrestle with each other over the implementation of that power. On the one hand we have legislators in our General Assembly who make the laws, and on the other hand we have judges who interpret those laws and make daily decisions about how they apply to defendants.
Deferred dispositions are one area where these two sources of power disagree over where authority ultimately lays. A deferred disposition is simple enough in the abstract. In Virginia, the guilt phase and the sentencing phase of adjudication are two separate events. A defendant … Read More »