AN OVERVIEW OF CRIMINAL LAW IN THE STATE OF VIRGINIA [OR WHY CRIMINAL COURT IS LIKE A CASINO]
Virginia Criminal Law encompasses a wide variety of offenses, including traditional categories such as theft, drugs, assault, larceny, and other charges, which are categorized as Misdemeanors and Felonies. However, in Virginia, offenses involving a motor vehicle can also be considered criminal, which most people don’t realize. It’s important when we discuss criminal law that we also discuss criminal traffic law.
There are Six Classes of Felonies in Virginia; Class 6 felonies are the least serious, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison; while a Class 1 felony is the most serious and can mean life in prison. These numbers may seem confusing; you might think that Class 6 felonies might be the worst and a Class 1 felony would be the least serious, but it’s the other way around under Virginia law. With misdemeanors, there are four Classes; with Class 4 being the least serious, such as drunk in public; and Class 1 misdemeanors being what we typically think of as traditional “Misdemeanor charges” such as assault and battery, concealed weapon, petit larceny, trespass, etc., for which one can receive up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. But, what might be the most important thing to know is that when a person is charged with a minor Class 4 misdemeanor, like drunk in public, or a Class 1 felony like murder, they will all have a “Criminal Record” for the rest of their lives with the FBI, Homeland Security and all law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States.
There are also criminal traffic misdemeanors and criminal traffic felonies. Class 1 traffic misdemeanors, such as reckless driving, driving on a suspended license, DUI/DWI, hit and run, and eluding a police officer, can cost you up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine, which is the same as other Class 1 criminal misdemeanors such as assault and battery or carrying a concealed weapon (and you will also have a permanent criminal record for the rest of your life with agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security); as well as the possible loss of your driver’s license for up to 12 months; up to 6 negative points on your DMV driving record; cancellation of your car insurance or your rates being significantly raised; which you don’t face with the other aforementioned traditional “non-traffic” misdemeanors. Again these are all criminal charges resulting in a permanent criminal record, even though these types of criminal traffic cases are handled in Traffic Court in Virginia and not in criminal court
Many people receive a Traffic Summons for many of these Class 1 criminal traffic misdemeanors, but “blow it off” as no more than a traffic ticket. They forgot, or they didn’t listen, when the police officer who gave them their Summons also told them that by signing their Summons, which they must do, that they are promising to appear in court, (a mandatory court appearance), so they don’t go. Therefore, several days later, they get a knock at their door and get arrested by the police on a Bench Warrant for another criminal charge; “Failure to appear” a Class 1 misdemeanor, all for what they thought was only a minor traffic infraction. This happens because all too often people don’t even know that their “Traffic Charge” is really a criminal misdemeanor charge. They’re shocked if they don’t get a lawyer but go to court themselves; maybe it’s their first criminal traffic offense so even though they do not know it’s criminal, the judge may just give them a fine and that’s all. But, they still don’t realize that they’ve also been found guilty of a criminal charge. The bad news is that they think everything is over, that all they have is a minor traffic infraction, but it isn’t. It’s just getting started!
Sometime later in their life, perhaps when they’re filling out their next job application, or applying for a security clearance, and they check a box “No” for the question “Have you ever been convicted of any criminal offense?”, not even realizing that they just “lied” on their application, because they do have a Permanent Criminal Record they weren’t even aware of. When they were in court on what they believed was their minor traffic infraction, but was actually a criminal traffic charge of reckless driving, driving on suspended license, etc. they gave themselves a Permanent Criminal Record even though the judge may have only given them a small fine.
They won’t ever get to coach their kids Little League team or a kid’s football team, or help out at their school as a soccer mom or dad. Why? Because almost everywhere in the country now, you simply cannot be around other people’s kids if you have a criminal record [even though you may have only paid a small fine in traffic court] When they apply to rent an apartment or house, they will also likely be rejected because the apartment management company, in most cases excludes renting to anybody with any kind of criminal record.