The Answers You Need to Many Common Legal Questions

Often, our clients have little experience with the law, and they share many questions and concerns when faced with a legal matter. The attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC understand you need answers, and we offer many of them here. Hear our thoughts on issues relating to criminal charges, traffic charges, real estate transactions, civil litigation, personal injury cases, business disputes, administrative hearings, and more.

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  • When can I be charged with felony murder and what penalties might I face in Virginia?

    Police Car Picking up a Felony Murder SuspectFelony murder is the killing of a person while in the commission of a felony crime in Virginia. It is also referred to as felony homicide. A person can be charged with this crime even if he did not intend to murder. If convicted, the punishment can be decades in prison.

    What Is Felony Murder?

    Under Virginia Code § 18.2-33, felony murder is the accidental killing of a person in the commission of certain felony crimes. This crime can be committed if the victim dies immediately or after the accused person has left the scene of the crime. It is often charged and punished as second-degree murder.

    However, if the felony is an especially serious one, felony murder can be charged as first-degree murder. These offenses include:

    • Rape
       
    • Arson
       
    • Robbery
       
    • Burglary
       
    • Abduction
       
    • Penetration by an inanimate or animate object

    In order to be convicted of felony murder, the prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes proving the following:

    • The act that caused the victim’s death was committed by a person involved in the felony crime.
       
    • The actions that caused the victim’s death were in furtherance of the underlying felony.
       
    • An action of the accused person was the cause of the victim’s death.

    What Are the Penalties for Felony Murder?

    The penalties for felony murder will depend on the type of felony the person is charged with committing and his prior criminal record. However, the punishment for felony homicide is between 5 and 40 years in prison if it is charged as second-degree murder.

    We Can Help You Defend Against Felony Murder Charges in Fairfax

    If you have been charged with felony murder, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to fight the very serious charges you face. Even if you are guilty of felony murder or the underlying felony, you may have strong defenses that can result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.

    Our skilled and dedicated lawyers are here to mount the strongest defense possible to the charges you face. We will aggressively fight for the best possible outcome in your case and are not afraid to take your case to trial if this is in your best interests. To learn more about how we can assist you, call our Fairfax office or start an online chat to schedule a free consultation.

  • How does the Commonwealth of Virginia define date rape?

    A Couple on a Date Having Drinks at a BarDate rape is a serious offense in the Commonwealth of Virginia that can result in severe penalties and long-term consequences. It is also commonly known as “acquaintance rape.” If you have been charged with this crime, you need to retain an experienced sex crimes defense attorney in Fairfax as soon as possible to help you get the best possible result.

    What Is the Crime of Date Rape in Virginia?

    Date rape is a rape crime under Virginia Code § 18.2-61. This law defines rape as any act of sexual intercourse against the victim’s will through the use of force, threat, or intimidation or by use of the victim’s mental or physical incapacity. Some unique factors in date rape crimes include:

    • The alleged victim and perpetrator know each other. They can be new acquaintances who have just met, long-term romantic parties, friends, or spouses.
       
    • The date rape does not need to be performed with the use or threat of force or intimidation. The allegation may be that the victim was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was physically incapacitated or mentally incapacitated.
       
    • A major issue when someone is charged with date rape is whether the victim consented or was capable of consenting to sexual intercourse. In some cases, there may be an honest misunderstanding where the person charged with date rape believed that consent was given and did not have any understanding that he may have been committing a crime.

    Penalties You Face If Convicted of Date Rape

    Date rape is a felony offense in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the punishment upon conviction is the same as for other rape crimes. The possible sentence someone charged with date rap faces is a minimum mandatory prison sentence of five years to up to life in prison. If convicted, the offender would have a permanent criminal record and be required to register on Virginia’s Sex Offender Registry.

    If you are being investigated for date rape or have been charged with this crime in Fairfax or Northern Virginia, our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you take proactive measures for a strong defense so that the charges against you are dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. Call our office or start an online chat to schedule a free consultation today.

     

  • What charges can I face if I am arrested for distributing drugs to a minor?

    In Virginia, any violation of controlled substance laws is prosecuted aggressively. Being charged with distributing drugs to a minor is a serious felony offense, and the punishment can include a lengthy prison sentence and a large fine. If you have been arrested for this crime, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you get the charges dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.

    What Is the Penalty for Distributing Drugs to a Minor?

    Under Virginia Code § 18.2-555, it is a felony crime to distribute controlled substances to a minor. Here are ways that an individual who is 18 years old or older can violate this law:

    • By intentionally or knowingly distributing any drug classified as a Schedule I-IV drug or marijuana to a person under 18 years old who is at least three years younger than him.
       
    • By intentionally or knowingly causing a person under 18 years old to assist in the distribution of a Schedule I-IV controlled substance.

    If convicted, an individual faces harsh penalties that include a mandatory minimum prison sentence. Here are the potential sentences for violations of Virginia Code § 18.2-555:

    • The sentence for distributing drugs to a minor or causing a minor to assist in distributing them is a prison sentence of not less than 10 years and not more than 50 years and a fine not to exceed $100,000.
       
    • If the conviction is for a Schedule I or II controlled substance or one or more ounces of marijuana, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. Examples of Schedule I and II drugs include heroin, PCP, ecstasy, cocaine, and opium.
       
    • If the conviction involves less than one ounce of marijuana, there is a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. 

    It is also a crime to distribute to or cause a minor to assist in distributing an imitation controlled substance. This is a Class 6 felony with a sentence range of one to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

    Are you being charged with a drug offense in Fairfax or Northern Virginia? Call our office to schedule a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense attorneys to learn about your options and how we can help you put on a strong defense to the charges you face.

  • Do I need to report my reckless driving conviction on a job application?

    Prospective Employee Filling Out a Job ApplicationWhen you are charged with reckless driving, it is not just a traffic ticket. It is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, and you will have a permanent criminal record if convicted. Because of this, you may have to disclose your conviction on job applications, which may impact your job prospects when hunting for a job in Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia.

    When Do You Need to Disclose a Reckless Driving Conviction on a Job Application?

    More and more employers are conducting a criminal background check or asking about a person’s criminal record on their job applications. When deciding whether you need to disclose your criminal record when applying for a job, it is important to read the question very carefully. You may be asked about your criminal background in a few ways, and this will affect how you answer. Here are some possible questions:

    • Have you ever been charged with a crime? If you are asked this question, you would need to answer yes, because reckless driving is a criminal offense.
       
    • Have you been convicted of a crime? If you were convicted of reckless driving, you would answer yes to this question. If the charge was dismissed or was reduced to a traffic violation that is not a misdemeanor, you most likely can answer no. However, if the charges were dismissed based on you completing community service or a driving school course, you do not have to disclose your reckless driving charge as long as it was dismissed or reduced to another offense after you completed the deferral conditions.
       
    • Have you been convicted of a felony? Reckless driving charges are misdemeanors. However, in certain situations the same behavior that would be reckless driving could also be a felony. Depending on what you are charged with, you may or may not have to answer yes to this question.

    It is important to keep in mind that reckless driving is most often a misdemeanor, not a felony. Many employers will consider a misdemeanor conviction in a much different light than if a person was convicted of a felony. In addition, some employers only ask about convictions for the last 10 years. If your conviction occurred earlier than that, you would not need to mention it in this situation.

    However, a reckless driving conviction may prevent you from obtaining employment in certain professions that require driving. For example, driving instructors at schools and individuals with commercial licenses may not be able to keep their jobs. Likewise, it may be difficult to gain employment at jobs where driving is required by the employer (e.g. construction jobs, Uber/Lyft).

    What Happens If You Fail to Disclose Your Reckless Driving Conviction?

    If you are required to disclose your conviction and fail to do so, your employer may discover it when doing a criminal background check. Your answer would most likely be considered untruthful and may be grounds not to hire you or to terminate you. Employers are typically more concerned about deceit than the fact that you were once convicted of reckless driving, especially if it occurred years ago.

    You can avoid some of the harsh penalties and long-term consequences of a reckless driving conviction by retaining an experienced reckless driving attorney in Fairfax. To learn how we would aggressively mount a defense to the charges you face, fill out our convenient online form to schedule a free consultation today.

     

  • Am I pleading guilty if I sign a reckless driving ticket?

    Reckless Driving Court Date Circled on a CalendarWhen you are charged with reckless driving in Fairfax, it is different than being charged with other crimes. Typically, you are not handcuffed and taken down to the police station to be booked and jailed. Instead, the police officer gives you a ticket (called a summons) and asks you to sign it.

    Should You Sign the Reckless Driving Ticket?

    Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. While an officer can arrest you for the offense, they usually do not. Instead, you are asked to sign the summons, which is a promise to appear in court. Below is some information you may find on your summons and an explanation of the legal effect of signing the summons.

    • You are not pleading guilty to reckless driving by signing the summons. It is only a promise that you will be in court. If you do not live up to that promise, then you could be arrested or otherwise brought to court to explain why you did not appear for your court date.

    What Happens If You Refuse to Sign the Summons?

    If you do not sign the summons, the police officer may assume that you do not intend to appear at future court hearings. He can arrest you and take you to the police station for booking as a result. 

    The police have discretion in deciding to arrest individuals charged with certain less serious offenses, such as reckless driving. Refusing to sign the summons can be enough of a hindrance or annoyance to the officer for them to justify your arrest. Additionally, by not signing the summons, you come across as rude and uncooperative, which is likely a factor that will play into resolving your case. Signing the summons is a good strategy to avoid these negative consequences.

    Contact Us for Help Fighting Your Reckless Driving Charge

    While you should sign the summons, it is not in your best interests to just plead guilty and accept your punishment. If convicted, your sentence may include jail time, hefty fines, driver’s license suspension, points on your driving record, and a permanent criminal record. Even if you are guilty of this crime, you may have strong defenses that can result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.

    Our experienced reckless driving attorneys will aggressively fight the charges you face so that you achieve the best possible outcome. Call our Fairfax law office or start an online chat to schedule a free consultation today.

     

  • How Long Do I Have To Pay My Fines And Costs To The Court?

    Fairfax county court finesFines and court costs are technically immediately due once imposed.  However, Virginia Code § 46.2-395 allows up to 30 days for payment before the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can suspend a driver’s license for failure to pay fines and court costs.  If you are unable to pay your fines and costs within 30 days, you should notify your attorney so that your attorney can request an extension of time from the judge.  If the court grants such an extension, you will be given a new deadline for payment.

    Failure to pay by that deadline will result in the suspension of your driving privileges by the DMV, which will then charge you a reinstatement fee to get your license back after you pay your fines and costs.  More significantly, if the DMV suspends your license and you continue to drive, you may face a criminal charge of driving under a suspended license. Therefore, if you need more time to pay after having received an extension of time, it is important to go back to court and request that extension of time rather than simply allowing the time to expire without payment.

  • Do I need a lawyer for a first offense shoplifting charge?

    Womain shoplifting in VirginiaAbsolutely.  A shoplifting charge in Virginia, even for a first offense, is a criminal misdemeanor if the value of the items is less than $500.  If the value is $500 or more, it is a felony even for a first offense.  

    Because misdemeanor shoplifting is a Class 1 misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.  More importantly, a shoplifting conviction is a permanent blemish on your record that you will have to deal with for the rest of your life.  Having a conviction record could have significant implications for your future, including loss of employment, loss of a security clearance, inability to obtain employment, difficulty obtaining housing, or deportation or ineligibility for immigration benefits if you are not a U.S. citizen.  

    Some jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County, have a first offender program for misdemeanor shoplifting.  This program requires you to admit your guilt first, after which the court defers entering its finding of guilt and places you on probation for a period of time.  As part of probation, you will be required to complete a shoplifting education course and a certain number of hours of community service, while also remaining of general good behavior.  At the end of the probation period, assuming you successfully completed it and did not violate the law again, the charge is dismissed.  However, it is very important to note that a charge dismissed under this kind of deferral cannot be expunged from your criminal record under current Virginia law.  Moreover, many jurisdictions do not offer first offender shoplifting programs.  

    If you are facing a shoplifting charge, it is critically important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process and attempt to obtain the most favorable resolution possible.

  • What’s The Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?

    Virginia police officer making traffic stop with reasonable suspicion“Reasonable articulable suspicion” (RAS) and “probable cause” (PC) are two of the most important concepts in criminal work.  However, reading those two phrases does not provide much information about what they mean, how they work, or when they apply.  However, having a clear understanding of both concepts and when they apply is essential in defending criminal charges. Below is a discussion of RAS and PC, but it is far from every detail you would need to consider when applying these concepts in a case.

    RAS and PC have been interpreted many times across many jurisdictions and judges, and they are often phrased in similar, but different, ways.  RAS is commonly understood as objective, specific information known by a police officer or other governmental law enforcement agent that leads them to suspect a person has, or is about to, commit a crime.  RAS is the easiest burden to establish in the law. It takes less information to demonstrate an officer had RAS than to show PC, proof by the preponderance of the evidence, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    PC is a close relative of RAS.  However, PC is viewed as a slightly higher hurdle to clear, though it is still below proof beyond a reasonable doubt or proof by the preponderance of the evidence.  PC is commonly understood as facts and circumstances known to a police officer that would lead a “prudent man” to believe that a particular suspect has committed or was committing an offense or has evidence of an offense.  When officers’ actions are challenged because they either lack PC or RAS, courts must look to the totality of the circumstances known to the officer to determine whether that officer’s actions were proper.

    The definitions of reasonable articulable suspicion and probable cause are very similar and difficult to distinguish.  However, the circumstances in which RAS and PC apply help courts impose the proper burden on the investigating officer when RAS or PC for an officer’s actions are challenged.  Thus, it is extremely important to know which concept applies to which situations.

    Reasonable Articulable Suspicion: How it Works

    Reasonable articulable suspicion is what an officer needs to perform an “investigatory” stop.  An investigatory stop can include pulling over a car, stopping a person on foot to engage in a conversation, and conducting a pat down or frisk for weapons.  The most common example of reasonable articulable suspicion is when an officer pulls over a car for a traffic offense.

    For example, if a suspect is pulled over for having a taillight out, that would be RAS for purposes of conducting the stop.  Once the stop is justified, if the officer smells marijuana in the car, or if the individual had signs of intoxication, then the officer can extend the stop to further investigate.  

    Another common scenario is the stop and frisk.  A police officer may see a suspect standing on a street corner having numerous brief interactions with apparent passersby.  While watching the suspect, the officer may observe him shifting an object underneath his clothes near his beltline. In this scenario, the officer may have sufficient RAS to stop the suspect from walking away and even to frisk him.  Whether the officer is entitled to remove things from the suspect’s person is a different question.

    Probable Cause: How it Works

    Probable cause on the other hand, applies to arresting an individual for a crime, searching them or their vehicle, and requesting a warrant to search their home or other tangible property (like a cell phone).  One of the most common examples of PC for a search is the vehicle stop scenario. If, for example, an officer pulls a suspect over for speeding or some other minor traffic offense but smells marijuana emanating from the vehicle, they may have PC to search the vehicle.  Thus, whether the suspect agrees to a search or not, their car may be thoroughly searched to find the suspected evidence.

    The foregoing examples are just a few common scenarios in which PC and RAS play a role.  There are numerous other scenarios in which these legal concepts play a role. It is important to know the concepts of PC and RAS and how they are applied by courts because a suspect can suppress certain aspects of the government’s case when an officer does not have the required level of information.

    Assume that a suspect is pulled over for a taillight that has gone out.  If during the stop the officer does not smell marijuana, but suspects there is marijuana in the car because he has pulled this particular suspect over before and found marijuana on him, the subsequent search of the car could be found illegal.  Searching a car on the basis of prior conduct alone is usually not enough to support a PC finding, though in some cases that may be possible.

    Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help

    No matter what type of offense you have been charged with, you need to know whether the officer had sufficient PC or RAS to stop you, frisk you, search you or your property, or take other action that leads to finding evidence against you or arresting you.  Our experienced criminal defense attorneys routinely evaluate and argue issues related to PC and RAS in a wide variety of cases. Call Greenspun Shapiro today to discuss whether you can challenge the arrest, search, or other conduct of the police, and to find out how raising such a challenge may help your case.

  • What Do The Points On My Driving Record Mean?

    Frustrated male Virginia driver after getting points on driving record for traffic violationIf you are a Virginia-licensed driver, you are subject to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle’s (DMV) demerit points system.  Each and every moving violation (speeding, reckless driving, failure to obey a highway sign or traffic signal, etc.) carries a pre-assigned demerit point value.  The number of points assessed depends on the nature of the offense. So what does it mean to accumulate a certain number of demerit points and how do you know how many points you will receive for a particular traffic charge?  Below, you will find the answers to both questions.

    A comprehensive list of all the different violations and their corresponding demerit points can be found on the DMV’s website.  The demerit points are divided into three categories: 3-point offenses; 4-point offenses, and 6-point offenses.  

    Some common 3-point offenses include: exceeding the speed limit by 1-9 mph, improper driving or passing, driving on the sidewalk, driving without proper lights or excessive lights, improper turns, and failure to obey a highway sign or traffic signal.

    Common 4-point offenses include: exceeding the speed limit by 10-19 mph, unsafe passing, failure to yield the right of way, following too closely, failure to obey railroad crossing markings or lights, and other offenses.  

    Finally, some common six-point offenses include: reckless driving of any kind, exceeding the speed limit by 20 or more mph, driving under the influence (DUI) of any kind, vehicular manslaughter, driving as a habitual offender, driving on a revoked or suspended license, failure to stop at a crash, and others.

    Aside from the penalties imposed for the specific offense charged, the DMV will assess the corresponding demerit points to your driving record.  Those demerit points can be viewed by insurance companies and may impact your insurance rates. Those points are also used by the DMV to take administrative action.  

    Consequences of Accumulating Demerit Points

    Drivers who are 18 or older can be the subject of administrative action depending on the number of demerit points they accumulate within a rolling 12 or 24-month period.  An adult driver who receives 8-11 points in 12 months or 12 points in 24 months will receive an advisory letter from the DMV stating they could be the subject of further action.  If the driver accumulates 12 points in 12 months or 18 points in 24 months, they will be informed by DMV that they are required to complete a driver improvement clinic within 90 days of the letter.  Failure to complete the course can lead to suspension of your license. If the same driver accumulates 18 points in 12 months or 24 points in 24 months, then their Virginia license will be suspended for 90 days and they will have to complete another driver improvement course.  After the course is completed and 90 days have passed, the driver will be placed on a 6-month, DMV-monitored probationary period.

    Any driver placed on probation must complete the probation period without being convicted of any new moving violations while on probation.  If the individual is successful, they are not out of the woods yet. Instead, they have to then complete an 18-month Control Period. If any new offense is committed while in the Control Period, the driver will be returned to a 6-month probationary period.

    If the driver is on DMV probation and commits a new moving violation, they face additional consequences.  Any 3-point offenses on probation lead to an automatic 45-day suspension of the individual’s license. Any 4-point offenses on probation lead to an automatic 60-day suspension.  And, any 6-point offenses on probation lead to an automatic 90-day suspension. These suspensions are in addition to (or run consecutive to) any existing suspensions. So, if a court suspends the driver’s license for 30 days, and the offense was a 3-point offense committed while on DMV probation, the individual will end up losing their license for 75 consecutive days (45 +35).  

    It is easy to get caught in the cycle of probation, Control Periods, and license suspensions if you are not careful and are prone to poor driving.  Moreover, you are not guaranteed to receive a restricted operator’s license (ROL) while on DMV suspension. All DMV-based ROL applications are completely discretionary.  And, if you have committed two or more DMV probation violations and there was no intervening Control Period, then you are prohibited from getting a ROL.

    The DMV’s administrative framework is complicated and convoluted at times.  It is difficult to understand and easy to get lost in the potential consequences of a traffic infraction.  If you have received multiple tickets in a short period of time, you need to be aware of the additional administrative penalties that may accompany an additional conviction.  Our attorneys frequently deal with these issues and know how the DMV’s administrative regulations work. Contact the traffic attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro today to find out what a traffic ticket could do to your driver’s license and what options you may have to avoid harsh administrative, and other, penalties.  

  • Do I have to install an ignition interlock device if convicted of a DUI in Virginia?

    Car Keys and a Glass of Alcohol With a Wooden GavelOne of the many harsh penalties you face if convicted of DUI in Virginia is that you will be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle in order to obtain restricted driving privileges. This is true even if this is your first DUI conviction. You are not permitted to drive at all until you have the device installed on your vehicle. The judge sentencing you will determine how long you must have this device on your vehicle, but it will be for at least six months.

    What Is an Ignition Interlock Device?

    An ignition interlock device is a type of breathalyzer that connects to your car’s ignition. You are required to breathe into the device before starting the engine, and if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over 0.02 percent, the device will prevent your vehicle from starting. You must also submit to rolling tests, which are retests approximately every 20 to 30 minutes of driving. If you fail a retest, an alarm sounds, lights flash, and you will be unable to continue driving.

    The ignition interlock will also come with an electronic logging device. The electronic log keeps a record of your BAC during attempted starts of your vehicle and rolling tests. It also documents any attempt to circumvent or tamper with the device. The log will be monitored by Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP).

    Who Pays for an Ignition Interlock Device?

    You must use a court-approved company to install and maintain the device. You are required to pay for its installation and a monthly maintenance fee. Currently, these companies are not charging to install the device, and the monthly maintenance fee is approximately $75 to $80.

    Tampering With an Ignition Interlock Device

    Under Virginia Code § 18.2-270.1, it is also a crime to tamper with or attempt to circumvent an ignition interlock device. This can include a variety of things, including allowing someone else to give a breath sample, blocking the camera, or breathing through another device. This offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

    If you have been charged with DUI in Fairfax or Northern Virginia, or have questions about your obligations to install an ignition interlock device, our experienced DUI attorneys are here to help. Call our office or start an online chat to schedule your free consultation today.