Being charged with a crime in Virginia can be extremely stressful, especially if it is your first time being on the wrong side of the law. You will have several questions about the kind of charge you will face, possible penalties, and whether you can prevent a conviction. Virginia crimes fall into two categories which are misdemeanors and felonies. Understandably, felony offenses attract the harshest penalties because of their severity. Nonetheless, this blog explains what forms of contraventions are deemed misdemeanors and how prosecutors handle them in court.
Legal Definition of a Virginia Misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is a criminal offense in VA statutes that is punishable by a monetary court fine of no more than $2,500 or a county or a city jail sentence of up to twelve months or both a jail sentence and fine. Misdemeanors are considered lesser offenses than felonies, and the penalties are awarded depending on the class. Further, when you are sentenced or fail to contest the charges for the offense, the records will be added to your criminal history, which will haunt your life forever. Even though a misdemeanor is a less severe crime, you should take the charges seriously and speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to contest and defeat them.
Misdemeanor charges can be filed against you by a law enforcement officer, the District Attorney, or a civilian. Police officers can bring charges against you by issuing you a citation or summons requiring you to appear in court on a particular date. Alternatively, they could arrest you when committing a crime or after obtaining an arrest warrant and bring you before a court magistrate.
Similarly, when you commit a crime in your area, and the victim goes before a magistrate with probable cause, the magistrate can issue an arrest warrant against you. When police investigate a crime, they present evidence to the DA, and a prosecutor is assigned the case. If the evidence presented to the prosecutor is enough to file charges, they proceed to court and present their case before a grand jury that hears and determines the issue.
Class 1 Misdemeanors
Class one misdemeanors are the most severe in Virginia because they attract a maximum of one year in jail and a monetary court fine not exceeding $2,500. Any offense that is more serious than a Class 1 misdemeanor is a felony. Examples of these misdemeanor types are:
1. Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Virginia laws Code § 18.2-266 make it a crime for you to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated by drugs or with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more. The prosecutor has the burden of proof in these cases and must present all the evidence to show you were intoxicated while driving. On the other hand, the court relies on the breath test results and the probable cause or legal foundation for the arrest to determine whether you are guilty or innocent. If you did not submit a breath test after arrest and submitted a blood sample, the court will order a chemical test on the blood. If the outcome of the tests shows that you were drunk or drugged during the arrest, you are likely to be convicted.
Alternatively, you could be arrested for drunk driving based on observations by police officers. Police will look at your speech, disposition, and muscular movement when you first make contact. Show signs of intoxication like slurred speech, red eyes, and others. They will have a valid reason to suspect you are under the influence and conduct further investigations, like ordering field sobriety tests.
The punishment for DUI is harsh, but these cases are not entirely hopeless. Arresting officers make many mistakes during investigations, and you could exploit these errors to poke holes into the reliability of the breathalyzer or chemical test results. Your defense attorney can challenge the experience of the arresting officer, review video evidence, and maintain the breathalyzer. Doing so can reduce the charges or have the case dismissed.
2. Reckless Driving
Virginia Code 46.2-852 defines reckless driving as recklessly operating a vehicle, driving at a speed of at least 20 miles per hour above the legal speed limit of 80 miles per hour, or in a fashion that endangers your life and that of other road users. In the context of this statute, reckless means disregarding the consequences of your actions while operating a car.
Usually, you face these charges when you cause an accident, and the investigating officer concludes that your reckless behavior was the cause. For a conviction to happen, the prosecutor must prove that you were speeding or driving in a way that threatens the lives, limbs, and property of others.
Also, you could be charged with reckless driving for failing to maintain control of a car. Other forms of reckless driving you could be accused of are:
- Failure to signal
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Passing while obstructed
- Vehicle overloading
Apart from the jail sentence and court fine, a conviction will result in the suspension of driving privileges, the loss of employment if you are a commercial license holder, and a rise in insurance premiums.
However, for the conviction to happen, the prosecutor must prove you were driving a car on a highway and endangered lives or property. These elements are not easy to prove, primarily where no witnesses or evidence show you exceeded the requisite speed.
3. Petit Larceny
Another standard Class 1 misdemeanor is petit larceny. The offense is outlined under Virginia Code Section 18.2-96 as the wrongful taking of someone else's property valued at no more than five dollars with the intent to permanently deprive them of its use or ownership. The crime includes stealing money, property, and other valuable items. It can be accomplished by shoplifting, snatching a bag or wallet from someone's hands, or wrongfully taking a valuable item not in the victim's direct possession.
For the prosecutor to convict you of this offense, they must prove the following:
- You wrongfully took money, goods, or property
- The value of the item was five or twenty dollars, depending on where you took it from
- Whether you planned on depriving the rightful owner of the property permanently
After the prosecutor has proven the above elements, your attorney will have the chance to contest the charges. In defense, your attorney can argue that you did not take the property. If you did, it was accidental, or you wanted to pay for it. Another defense is that you had permission from the owner to take the property or take it in good faith.
4. Assault and Battery
People quickly assume assault and battery are the same crime. However, the truth of the matter is these are two distinct offenses. Assault is when you engage in overt conduct with the motive of causing physical harm, and you currently possess the capability to inflict the injury. Besides, you will face assault charges for participating in an explicit act with the intent to cause fear and cause the victim to reasonably fear for their safety.
On the other hand, battery is when an individual deliberately or illegally touches another. Here, the prosecutor does not require the victim to sustain injuries or the perpetrator to possess the intent to cause harm. What is essential is for you to touch or make contact rudely or angrily.
Assault and battery offenses filed as Class 1 misdemeanors include:
- Simple assault
- Assault and battery on a family member, medical professionals, or school officials
5. Domestic Violence
Any act involving threats or violence towards a family member amounts to domestic or family violence. A family member under this statute could be your children, spouse, or in-laws living under your roof. The offense can take the following forms:
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Economical abuse
- Physical abuse
- Dating violence
When charged with domestic violence, you can defend against the charge by arguing that you were falsely accused, the injuries were accidental, or you were acting in self-defense or protecting others.
Class 2 Misdemeanors
Virginia's Class 2 misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in a county jail or a court fine not exceeding $1,000. Compared to Class 1 misdemeanors, Class 2 misdemeanors are less severe because they carry lesser penalties. However, a conviction for the charges will result in a driving or criminal record. Some of the infringements that fall under this Class are:
Acts that endanger property or life on the road like:
- Failure to stop or give right of way at an intersection
- Stopping on highways
- Disregarding lanes marked for traffic and
- Other traffic violations would amount to aggressive driving if you did not intend to cause harm, intimidate or harass another party.
Nevertheless, if the prosecutor can show you engaged in these acts with intent to harm, the offense will be charged as a Class 2 misdemeanor, which attracts harsher penalties.
Driving without a License
Per Virginia Code 46.2-300, it is illegal to operate a vehicle on a highway in the commonwealth without a valid driver's license. A breach of this offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor, but driving without a permit is filed as a Class 1 misdemeanor when you have a prior conviction. Beyond the jail sentence and court fine, a conviction for this offense attracts a suspension of your driving privileges for ninety days.
An experienced defense attorney can help you contest these charges to have the case dismissed, obtain a not-guilty ruling, and reduce the offense to a less severe one.
Possession of Schedule IV Drugs
Per VA Code 18.2-250, knowingly possessing controlled substances is a crime. The offense can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. Possession of Schedule IV substances like valium, Darvon, or Xanax is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Additionally, possession of a device used to ingest drugs or paraphernalia also falls under this category.
Other crimes that fall under Class 2 are:
- Displaying a fictitious car permit
- Violation of second custody or visitation order
Class 3 Misdemeanors
A less severe type of misdemeanor you could face charges for in Virginia is Class 3. The offense is only punishable by a fine and no possibility of jail incarceration. Upon conviction, you face monetary court-imposed fines of no more than $500. However, you must understand that even without possible jail time, a sentence for the offense will seriously affect many aspects of your life because it will be added to your criminal record. Examples of violations charged under this category are:
- Visitation or custody order violation
- Schedule V drug possession which includes drugs like codeine
- Unintentional property or monuments damage without intent to steal
- Driving without auto insurance
Class 4 Misdemeanors
The last and least severe type of misdemeanor in Virginia is Class 4. The category comprises the least severe offenses punishable by court fines of at most $250 upon sentencing. Crimes that attract these charges are:
- Schedule VI drug possession
- Public intoxication
- Fleeing an accident stage leaving unattended property damage of no more than $250
Under public intoxication, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you were drunk or drugged in a public setting where people could see.
Do not assume the offense is not worth fighting because Class 4 misdemeanors have no possible jail term. A sentence for the crime will result in a criminal record that will be visible when someone runs a background check on your criminal record.
Misdemeanor Offenses' Statute of Limitation
The duration provided by the law to file misdemeanor charges against an individual in Virginia is twelve months. If the time lapses without filing charges, you lose the right to do so. The clock starts to tick when the crime is committed.
Additional Penalties of a Misdemeanor Sentence
Beyond city or county jail incarceration and court fines, you can face several consequences when convicted. These penalties are specific to the circumstances surrounding the crime you are accused of committing.
For instance, when convicted, traffic offenses like DUI or DWI, reckless driving, and aggressive driving could suspend your driving privileges. And for reinstatement of the license, you must complete a mandatory drug or alcohol education program.
Similarly, with offenses like domestic assault or violence, the court can issue stay-away orders after conviction or mandatory counseling sessions. Besides, a sentence for a misdemeanor drug crime will require you to undergo drug education and counseling on top of serving your jail term and paying court fines.
Adverse Effects of Having a Criminal History
All types of misdemeanor offenses result in a criminal record upon sentencing. Even after you have served your jail time and paid court fines, a criminal record will haunt you in your future life. Typically, a misdemeanor criminal record stays in public records and cannot be expunged.
Many employment opportunities in Virginia are such that the employer can fire you for any reason the law permits. Therefore, if you are convicted while on the job, the employer can fire you because of the record. Nonetheless, not all criminal records will get you fired. For instance, you are a commercial vehicle driver convicted of driving under the influence or reckless driving. Under these circumstances, a conviction for the crime will result in a driver's license suspension, leaving the employer with no choice but to fire you. The same will apply if your job involves controlled substances. The employer will terminate you if you are sentenced for illegally possessing controlled substances.
If it is a job you are looking for, a potential employer can use your criminal record as a basis to deny you employment. Also, landlords could deny you a lease on their property when you have a record. Even some learning institutions will not offer admission if you have a record leading to missed career development opportunities.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help With Your Misdemeanor Charge
The biggest mistake you can make after being charged with a misdemeanor is representing yourself in court. A conviction for the offense extends beyond the fine and jail sentence. You will have a criminal record that cannot be expunged, which can have devastating effects on almost every aspect of your life. You need legal representation from a proficient attorney to mount a legal defense and defeat the charges.
An attorney will conduct an independent investigation, cross-examine witnesses, and obtain the necessary paperwork for the case. Additionally, your legal representation will help you understand the type of misdemeanor charge you face and how the justice system works. Based on the evidence provided by the prosecutor, the attorney will develop defense strategies to ensure a charge reduction or dismissal.
Furthermore, an attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea deal. This will be necessary where you face charges for multiple offenses, or the crime in question can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. In these situations, the prosecutor can ask you to plead guilty in exchange for a charge reduction. An attorney will evaluate the deal the prosecutor offers and advise you on whether to take it or proceed to trial.
Find the Right Criminal Attorney Near Me
A conviction for a misdemeanor offense will result in jail time, a court fine, and a criminal record, all of which will adversely impact your life and those of your loved ones. Also, the prosecutor will try to offer a plea deal, but before you agree to one, you must talk to your attorney and understand your rights and whether you can defeat the charges against you. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we are available to defend your rights and freedom aggressively. Call us today at 703-718-5533 if you have been arrested in Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia for a zero-obligation consultation