Harsh Realities for Virginia’s Youth

An art exhibit at Art180 Reality recently shed a light on the effects of juvenile delinquency convictions. The gallery featured exhibits done by children at the Juvenile Detention Center in Richmond. One former prisoner discussed how he was incarcerated at the age of 14 for a robbery where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was not released until he was 21 years old. The purpose of the exhibit was to call for an end to youth prisons in Virginia.

Juvenile Delinquency Convictions

Juveniles who are convicted of crimes and required to serve a prison sentence are sent to prisons that are much like adult prisons. However, those that are incarcerated and sent to juvenile prisons can be as young as eleven. Many of these convictions started with an issue in school. Virginia schools are the leaders in referring children to police officers. This exemplifies the school to prison pipeline where getting in trouble in school can lead to future prison sentences. This is extremely dangerous for children who are growing and maturing. Almost 75% of these children end back in jail within three years of their first incarceration, which calls into question the effectiveness of these prisons. Parents should take all necessary precautions, including hiring a criminal defense attorney, to try to prevent their child from going to prison.

Grand Larceny and Juveniles

The majority of juveniles that are incarcerated have been charged with grand larceny. In Virginia, grand larceny is committed by a person who steals money or property that has a value of $200 dollars or more or steals a firearm regardless of the price. This charge can result in a prison sentence of no less than one year and no more than 20 years if the person is a first-time offender. The person could also be forced to pay up to $2,500. When a child is involved, this responsibility will fall to the parent, since an eleven year old cannot legally hold a job.  Virginia’s threshold for grand larceny is one of the lowest in the country.

Potential Alternatives

Those who advocate for closing juvenile detention centers call for programs that would focus on rehabilitating children, not punishing them. These programs would be family and community based rather than institutionalized. The Virginia Department of Education is currently working with schools on new strategies for addressing discipline issues that do not involve getting the police involved for things that can be handled in the school. Police departments in Virginia are also working on their approach to working with these youths.

Is Your Child Facing Juvenile Delinquency Charges?

If your child has been charged with a criminal offense you should contact an experienced attorney who will keep his or her future in mind when planning a defense. Jad Sarsour Criminal Defense Attorney has worked on numerous juvenile cases and is prepared to listen to your child’s side of the story. Contact our firm today at 703-385-6868 to learn about the options that are available for your child.

Reckless Driving With a Commercial Driver’s License in Virginia

You may have heard how seriously law enforcement in Virginia takes reckless driving. You may have even experienced it if you have been ticketed before. There are serious penalties associated with a reckless driving conviction and it is considered a crime in the Commonwealth.  This applies to your average, everyday driver. What happens if you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL)? You depend on your driver’s license for your livelihood. Taking a bus to work might be a minor inconvenience for other people, but you drive to earn a paycheck. If you have been charged with reckless driving, what are the implications to your CDL?

Commercial Driver’s Licenses

Drivers with CDLs are held to a higher standard. The federal government has set standards regarding how long commercial drivers can drive, the types of physical conditions they must have to qualify for different endorsements, and the types of loads they can carry. For an average driver, the federal government is not involved. Beyond the federal level, Virginia has its own rules for CDL holders. An unsafe CDL driver carries a much higher risk to the public health and welfare than the driver of a passenger vehicle. An 80,000 pound tractor and trailer must be expertly driven so as to ensure the safety of all those around it. While a 4,000 pound car is inherently dangerous, the level of danger is a world apart from a big rig.

Virginia’s Reckless Laws

Virginia has broad laws when it comes to reckless driving. You can be charged for reckless driving for a number of violations, such as:

Failing to signal

Driving too fast for conditions

Exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 miles an hour above the posted limit

Following too closely

Failing to yield the right of way when entering a highway

CDLs and Reckless

First and foremost, a reckless driving conviction while driving a commercial vehicle will cause you to lose your intrastate CDL. If you get convicted of reckless driving while driving any vehicle and are subsequently convicted of another serious traffic violation within three years, you will lose your CDL. Two serious violations within two years will result in a 60-day disqualification, and three or more serious violations will result in a 120-day disqualification. If your reckless charge involves either a blood alcohol content over .04% (higher standard, remember?) or the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will lose your license for a year. A second conviction of this type will get you a lifetime ban from having a CDL.

Virginia does not mess around when it comes to serious traffic violations and CDL holders. If you are a professional driver, the Commonwealth expects you to behave professionally. However, people make mistakes. If you find yourself a licensed CDL driver facing a reckless driving or other serious traffic charges, you owe it to yourself and your livelihood to obtain quality representation. Jad Sarsour has been defending CDL drivers in Northern Virginia for over 10 years. Give him a call today at (571) 261-7314 to schedule an initial consultation to find out what he can do to protect your livelihood.

Rebuttable Presumption and Virginia DUI

You are innocent until proven guilty, right? Not so fast. There are levels of “innocence” when it comes to DUI in Virginia. To understand this better, we can examine what a prosecutor needs to prove to convict you of a DUI in Virginia and explain some legal terms that you often see used in association with DUI charges.

DUI in Virginia

In Virginia, if you are charged with burglary, for example, the Commonwealth’s attorney (the prosecutor) must prove either to a judge or jury that you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In a DUI case, the same does not hold true.

DUI in Virginia can be charged if:

  • The driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more
  • The driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or
  • The driver is under the influence of any self-administered intoxicant that impairs the ability to operate a motor vehicle.

If a driver is under the influence or drugs or alcohol or his or her ability to drive is impaired because of the same, he or she can be charged with DUI in Virginia.

You can be found guilty of DUI if your BAC is .08% or greater or you are under the influence or you are impaired. This is called a rebuttable presumption because you are presumed to be intoxicated if you have a BAC of .08% or greater.

Rebuttable Presumption

The presumption part of “rebuttable presumption” is that you are presumed to be guilty of driving under the influence if your BAC is .08% or more. To better see what this means, we will create an example. You are driving home after having a couple of drinks. A police officer pulls you over. The officer says that she pulled you over because you had a taillight out. She smells alcohol on your breath and asks you to take a portable breathalyzer. You blow a .06. Since she didn’t notice any erratic driving or moving violations, chances are she will not charge you with DUI, in that you didn’t exhibit any behavior that showed that you were either impaired or under the influence. If you take the same exact facts and you blew a .08%, you are now in the back of the police car being taken to jail. Why? You are presumed to be under the influence.

Now, go back to the term “rebuttable presumption.” This is where your defense attorney comes in. It is now your opportunity to rebut (or argue) that you were not under the influence. A skilled defense attorney can build a defense that will be able to prove this. Jad Sarsour has been arguing on behalf of DUI clients for over 10 years. He knows the process and law inside and out. If you have been charged with DUI in Northern Virginia, give him a call at (571)-261-7314 to set up your initial consultation and see what kind of defense he can offer you.

Should I Talk to the Police In Virginia if I May Be at Fault in an Auto Accident?

Whether you should talk to police after an accident is a tricky question. Each situation is different and the right course of action will depend on the specifics of the situation. When most drivers are involved in an accident, their first inclination is to be cooperative with the police when they arrive to investigate the accident. There are many reasons for this, from trying to deflect possible blame, to nervousness, to having a gregarious personality. There are some important things to know, though, before you talk to the police after an accident in the Commonwealth.

Fault

There are two different dynamics going on in an auto accident. The first is of a civil nature, meaning that if someone is injured or there is damage to property, there is a potential for civil liability. Whether this stems from insurance claims or a lawsuit for personal property damage or personal injury, fault comes into play. While this can be incredibly serious, this is not the most serious aspect of a car accident.

Charges

In many accidents, when the police arrive to investigate, they will assign blame to one or both of the parties involved. Here is where things can get complicated. Depending on the officer’s determination, a driver might be charged with a violation (a regular traffic ticket), a crime (reckless driving), or nothing at all. This being the case, many drivers feel compelled to explain the accident to the responding officer. This can be a huge mistake.

Statements

Statements are important to the police in determining who is at fault in an accident. However, what you say can and will be used against you. It is important to note that when a police officer files a police report regarding an accident, the report itself is typically not admissible into evidence. However, the statements that the parties make regarding the accident usually are.

So, should you speak with the police? While there is no general rule, if the accident is minor and there are no injuries and very little property damage, there is typically no harm in giving a statement to police. However, you should never admit blame, take responsibility for the crash, or lie. On the other hand, if the accident is more serious, there is substantial property damage or injury, or you feel that you may be to blame for the accident, the usual advice is to not give a statement to the police. This is because the police could construe something you say in such a way that might result in you getting charged with a crime like reckless driving (a Class 1 misdemeanor) or aggressive driving (a Class 2 misdemeanor) instead of getting a civil traffic ticket. Any statement of this nature is probably admissible in court unless your defense attorney can get it thrown out of court.

If you have ever been in an accident, you know that it can be a confusing time. The police are there to do a job and the parties to the accident are naturally on opposing sides. Drivers must understand, though, that Virginia has laws that criminalize many actions that most of us take for granted as something that would just get a ticket. If you find yourself in an accident, it is hard to know the right thing to do. If you are in this situation and have been charged (whether you gave a statement or not), you need to protect your rights. Jad Sarsour has been defending clients in Northern Virginia against all types of traffic tickets and auto accident-related crimes for over 10 years. Give him a call today at (571) 261-7314 to set up your initial consultation and let him explain what he can do to ensure that your rights are protected.

Is Failing to Use a Turn Signal a Crime in Virginia?

Virginia is known for being incredibly tough on drivers who break the law. In a recent decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals, it seems that being tough on drivers has been taken to a new level.

Wilson v. Commonwealth

This month, the Virginia Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Wilson v. Commonwealth. In this case, the defendant, Ms. Wilson, was a passenger in a car that was pulled over in Virginia. The police officer that pulled the car over testified that the car pulled into a left turn lane without using a signal. Upon a search, marijuana was alleged to have been found on the defendant’s person and more marijuana and a gun were found in the glove compartment of the car. The defendant was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. She appealed her conviction on the basis that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull over the vehicle because that, since there was no traffic on the road, there was no necessity to use a turn signal and therefore, no law was violated and there was no basis for reasonable suspicion.

This appeal was primarily based on the interpretation of a Virginia law that makes it illegal to not use a turn signal when making a turn. The law requires that any driver who intends to turn from a direct line must indicate this with an appropriate signal “whenever the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by such movement.” The police officer testified at a hearing that there was no oncoming traffic that was affected.

The Court upheld the conviction, using the logic that the Commonwealth did not have to prove that another vehicle was affected but that the police officer himself (who never testified that he was affected by the failure to signal) might have been affected.

Confused? The Court said they relied on the plain language of the statute and the fact that the law was written to facilitate the orderly movement of traffic. Turning left from a left turn lane without a signal when there is no oncoming traffic seems to fall outside the umbrella of this law.  It doesn’t seem like the driver was “affecting” anyone. Doesn’t it seem like a left hand turn from a left hand turn lane is the only choice available to a driver and therefore, readily apparent to other drivers (of which there were none)?

Ms. Wilson’s conviction and sentence of five years in jail with four years suspended was affirmed. So, at least in the Commonwealth, this is how failing to use a turn signal can get you serious jail time.

Criminal trials can sometimes lead to odd results. In the case above, an action that arguably violated no laws ended up resulting in a felony conviction. Police often use tactics like this to bring more serious charges against drivers and passengers. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you need serious legal help. For Northern Virginia drivers, Jad Sarsour has been protecting their rights against charges like this for over ten years. Give him a call today at (571) 261-7314 to schedule your initial consultation. He has the expertise and experience help you get the results you deserve.