On July 1 of this year, the Commonwealth of Virginia saw changes to several of its laws. In particular, there have been several changes to laws related to criminal offenses that it's a good idea to be aware of. Below is a list of some of the big changes you'll want to know about. As always, if you are struggling with a criminal charge, don't hesitate to get in touch with Kassabian & Kassabian, P.L.C. John Kassabian has been a practicing Fairfax criminal lawyer for over 25 years and is committed to helping Northern Virginians get the justice they deserve.
Under HB972/SB2, Virginians saw several changes to marijuana laws on July 1. The biggest change is that simple marijuana possession has been decriminalized. While marijuana is still illegal, if you are found carrying less than one ounce and there is no indication that you intend to distribute it, you won't face a criminal charge.
Instead, you will pay a civil penalty of a $25. You will no longer be faced with jail time and any records related to the arrest, the criminal charge, and the conviction will not be available to the public through the Criminal Records Exchange. HB 972 also allows people who have been acquitted of a marijuana charge or who have had the charge dismissed to petition for the charge to be fully expunged from their police and court records. You can learn more about this here.
It's also important to know that possession with intent to distribute is still a Class 1 misdemeanor. If you are found with more than one ounce of marijuana in your possession, you will face a criminal charge, jail time, and expensive fines, and will likely still need a Fairfax marijuana attorney. You can read more about the full range of changes to the law here.
Many people are wondering whether Virginia will move to legalize marijuana in the near future, but that remains unclear. The General Assembly passed legislation allowing for the study of legalization and regulation in the Commonwealth. Once the results are in, we will know more about the future of legalization.
Traffic, License Suspension, and DUI Laws
New changes to laws surrounding traffic offenses and driver's license regulations will make life a little easier for some Virginia drivers. First, the threshold for a reckless driving charge has been raised from 80 to 85 miles per hour. If you're traveling at 85 or under, you'll instead be charged with speeding, with one exception: if you're traveling at 20 or more mph over the speed limit, you will still be charged with reckless driving.
While this may not sound like a big deal, the difference between a reckless driving charge and a speeding ticket is huge in terms of penalties. Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, a serious criminal charge that will stay on your record for life and can leave you with expensive fines as well as jail time. You can learn more about penalties for reckless driving and when a Fairfax reckless driving lawyer may be useful to you here.
New DUI laws will also allow eligible drivers convicted of a DUI to get what is being casually referred to as an “any purpose” restricted license, allowing people to drive wherever they need to rather than having their travel limited to work, school, and essential activities. If you qualify (and not everyone does) you will still need to have an ignition interlock system installed on your vehicle for 12 months. You can get more details and learn when a DUI lawyer in Fairfax can help here.
In terms of driver's license law changes, with the passage of HB1196/SB1, Virginia will see the end of driver's license suspensions for unpaid court costs and fines. In addition, if your license was suspended for either of these reasons before July 1, 2019, it will be reinstated. This will make life easier for many drivers who rely on having a license but cannot afford to pay old fines.
Virginia lawmakers have made multiple changes and amendments to several firearms laws in an effort to reduce violent crimes and domestic abuse. Under HB674/SB240, an Extreme Risk Protective Order has been established that allows authorities to temporarily remove guns from the possession of anyone who is determined to be a danger to themselves or others. In the related SB479, people with certain types of 2-year protective orders against them must relinquish their guns to authorities within 24 hours. Failure to do so will result in a charge of a Class 6 felony, punishable by 1 to 5 years in jail and a $2500 fine. (You can read more about this in this blog post.)
A host of other changes to firearms laws have made universal background checks mandatory for gun purchases and given local governments increased authority to ban guns in public spaces. People will also face tougher penalties if they recklessly handle guns in their homes in ways that endanger a child (such as having a loaded and unsecured firearm on hand). A conviction will result in a charge of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries tougher penalties than the previous Class 3 misdemeanor charge for this type of offense.
Gun owners can also face a civil penalty if they fail to report a lost or stolen firearm to law enforcement within 48 hours.
Parole Changes for Juveniles
Under HB35/SB103, juvenile offenders who were sentenced to prison terms of 20 or more years between 1995 and 2000 will be made eligible for parole. This includes anyone sentenced to life imprisonment for an offense they committed as a juvenile, if they have served at least 20 years of the sentence.
This is not an exhaustive list of July 1 changes, but these are some of the big ones that could impact criminal cases. If you find yourself facing a legal matter related to an issue described above, working with a Fairfax criminal lawyer may be in your best interest. Regardless of the crime you are accused of, Kassabian & Kassabian, P.L.C. believes in treating you with justice and respect.
To learn more, contact John Kassabian at (703) 750-3622.