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.

  • Page 1
  • 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.

    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.


  • Can my reckless driving conviction be expunged in Virginia?

    Criminal Record That Is Being Expunged Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, and you will have a permanent criminal record if convicted. Unfortunately, you only have a very limited right to get a reckless driving conviction expunged from your criminal record. Here, we explain when this may be possible.

    When Can Your Reckless Driving Conviction Be Expunged?

    When a conviction is expunged in Virginia, all records of your arrest and court case are removed from your criminal record. This can be a huge benefit to you because it cannot be accessed by employers, state agencies, educational institutions, and others. It would also allow you to treat the charge as if it never happened.

    However, it is very difficult to get a reckless driving conviction expunged in our state. Here are the limited circumstances when this may be possible:

    • Acquittal. If you were acquitted of the reckless driving charge by the judge, you may be able to get the arrest and acquittal expunged from your criminal record.
    • No prosecution. If the prosecutor decided not to prosecute your case, which is referred to as a nolle prosequi, you are eligible to petition for expungement of the case record. 
    • Otherwise dismissed. If the charge was dismissed without any finding of sufficient evidence to support a conviction and without any plea of guilty or no contest by you, then you may be eligible for expungement.
    • Amended charges. The Virginia Supreme Court has held that a person who is convicted of an amended charge that is not a “lesser included offense” is eligible to expunge the original charge. This means that if you were charged with reckless driving, but the prosecutor offers to amend the charge to failure to pay full time and attention, defective equipment, or a number of other charges that are not considered lesser included offenses, then the original charge of reckless driving may be expunged. However, the other elements of expungement must also be shown to the court. 

    Our Experienced Reckless Driving Attorneys Can Help

    If you are facing a reckless driving charge, or if your reckless driving charge has been dismissed or amended to another charge and you would like to expunge the original case record, our experienced attorneys can help you. We represent clients in Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia. Call our Fairfax office or start an online chat to schedule your free consultation today.


  • What happens to a non-resident who gets charged with DUI in Virginia?

    Out-of-State Driver Being Charged With Virginia DUIBeing charged with DUI can be even more stressful if you are an out-of-state resident traveling in Virginia on vacation, on your way to work, or for business. Unfortunately, this is common because of the proximity of Maryland and Washington D.C. to our state and Virginia’s aggressive prosecution of DUI. If you are a resident of another state and have been charged with DUI in Fairfax or Northern Virginia, you need to retain an experienced local DUI attorney as soon as possible.

    Consequences of DUI Charges in Fairfax for Out-of-State Residents

    Under Virginia Code § 18.2-266, you may be charged with DUI if you have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher or you are under the influence of alcohol. As a non-resident, you will still be required to attend any scheduled court hearings in Virginia. Your lawyer may be able to attend some of them on your behalf depending on the court and the type of hearing. DUI is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and you can face these penalties if convicted of a first offense:

    • You may be sentenced to up to 12 months in jail, but this may be suspended by the judge if you satisfy other conditions of your sentence. If your BAC was between 0.15 and 0.19 percent, there is a mandatory jail sentence of five days. This mandatory jail sentence would increase to 10 days if your BAC was 0.20 percent or higher.
    • You may be ordered to pay a fine of between $250 and $2,500.
    • You must complete the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) and may be sentenced to up to one-year probation.
    • Your driver’s license would be suspended for one year, but you may be able to obtain a restricted license allowing you to drive for certain approved purposes. In addition, you would be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle in order to drive, even on a limited basis.
    • You would have a permanent criminal record.

    How a DUI Conviction Will Affect Your Driver’s License in Your Home State

    Almost all states are part of the Driver License Compact (DLC), which is an information sharing agreement to notify each other of traffic offenses and driver’s license suspensions or revocation. As a result, you may face the same loss of your driving privileges in your home state.

    Are you an out-of-state resident who has been charged with DUI in Virginia? Our experienced DUI attorneys have helped many non-residents facing these charges. To learn how we can assist you, call our Fairfax office to schedule a free consultation today.


  • Does Virginia have an open container law?

    Virginia's Open Container Laws Unlike many other states, Virginia does not have a law that expressly prohibits passengers in a vehicle from having an open container of alcohol. However, if an open container is found in your vehicle and you are driving, you may face severe consequences under Virginia’s open container law.

    Virginia’s Open Container Law

    Virginia’s open container law applies to the driver of the vehicle and not the passengers. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-323.1, it is illegal to consume alcohol while driving a motor vehicle. There is a rebuttable presumption that the driver was consuming alcohol if there is an open container in his automobile. An open container is defined as one without the original factory seal. The presumption arises if these three conditions are met:

    • An open container is located in the passenger area.
    • At least some of the alcohol in the container has been removed.
    • The driver’s speech, other physical characteristics, appearance, conduct, or odor of alcohol can be reasonably associated with the consumption of alcohol by him.

    The passenger area of the vehicle is broadly defined to include the following:

    • Area where the driver sits in a vehicle
    • Any area within reach of the driver, including an unlocked glove compartment
    • Areas designed for passengers to sit in

    However, it does not include a motor vehicle’s trunk or the area behind the last upright seat in a van, station wagon, or SUV.

    Although Virginia's open container law applies specifically to drivers and not passengers, allowing any passenger to consume alcohol or carry an open container of alcohol significantly raises your risk of facing an open container charge. The safest way to reduce your risk of facing this charge is to simply never have an open container in the passenger area of your car while driving.

    Penalties Under Virginia’s Open Container Law

    Violation of the open container law is a Class 4 misdemeanor offense. If convicted, you may face a $250 fine but will not be sentenced to jail. In addition, you may also face a separate DUI charge if there is evidence of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or while intoxicated.

    Even though the fine upon conviction is relatively small, it would be a mistake to just plead guilty if charged with this offense. Doing so would result in a permanent criminal record that may affect many areas of your life, such as your career, immigration status, security clearance, and ability to obtain a loan. You need the assistance of an experienced DUI attorney in Fairfax to build a strong defense so that the charges are dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. To learn how our skilled lawyers can help, call our office or start an online chat to schedule a free consultation.


  • What are Your Rights If You’re Pulled Over After Drinking?

    If you’re being pulled over and you’ve been drinking, you need to know what your rights are.  If you don’t know your rights, you may unwittingly harm yourself more than you realize. Read on to find out what you can and cannot do when interacting with the police after being pulled over.

    How to Respond When You're Pulled Over

    Man being pulled over by Virginia police after drinking

    First, after you’re pulled over, the officer will approach your car, ask you to roll down your window, and request to see your license.  Virginia law requires all individuals, whether they are driving or not, to accurately identify themselves to police. Failure to do so is a crime under Code § 19.2-82.1 (Giving false identity to law-enforcement officer).  While this law does not require you to hand over your driver’s license, failure to do that may lead to a charge of driving without a license, which can be a class 1 or 2 misdemeanor (Code § 46.2-300).  So, it’s best to be honest and upfront about your identity and give the police your driver’s license after being pulled over.

    During this first portion of the encounter, an officer may ask you seemingly innocent sounding questions.  Officers who suspect someone of drinking and driving will ask where that person is coming from, who they were with, what they were doing, where they are headed to now, and any other questions they feel appropriate.  You are NOT obligated to answer a single question posed by the officer. You may respond by telling the officer that you do not wish to talk about anything and that you wish to remain silent. That is your right under the United States Constitution.  However, do not lie to the officer, because then you could expose yourself to an Obstruction of Justice charge (Code § 18.2-460) and the Constitution does not give you the right to lie when you are faced with an arrest.

    Field Sobriety Tests

    If police suspect that you have been drinking, either while driving or beforehand, they may next ask you to step out of the vehicle.  Police are permitted to ask you to step out of your vehicle, and if you fail to comply, they can force you out. So again, best practice here is to exit the vehicle.  But, before doing so, you can also ask whether you are being told to get out or asked to get out. If the officer tells you it is a request and not a command, you can respond by saying you do not wish to exit the vehicle.  Once they command you to get out, you should follow their order. Otherwise, you may find yourself being dragged out of your car.

    Once out of the vehicle, the officer will either ask you to go somewhere or guide you to a specific place.  Again, if asked to do something, you can respond by saying you do not wish to do that or by clarifying whether you are being asked or told to do it.  If they command you to move to a location, do as they ask.

    Once the police determine you are in a safe location, they typically will ask you to do field sobriety tests (FSTs) or question you, if they have not done so already or wish to ask more questions.  If you have told the officer that you do not wish to answer any questions, make sure you tell them that again. As for FSTs, most people believe they are required to do them. That is simply not the case.  You can decline to do FSTs. Additionally, the police cannot command you to do FSTs.

    Even if you decline to do FSTs, the police may still ask you to do a preliminary breath test (PBT).  The PBT is a little machine that officers carry with them and measures a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC).  These machines can be inaccurate, and a driver is NOT required to take the PBT. Police also cannot command you to take the PBT, so if you decline to do so, they have no other option at that point but to either arrest you or let you go.

    What to Expect If You Are Arrested for DUI

    If you are arrested, you will be brought to the police station and subjected to a breathalyzer test at the jail.  You are REQUIRED to take this test.  If you decline to take the test, you will be charged with Refusal, which can be a civil penalty or criminal charge, depending on the circumstances.  Thus, you must take the breathalyzer test when told to do so by the police. Alternatively, if you are unable to take the breathalyzer test, either because you are unconscious or have weak lung capacity, the police can seek a warrant to draw your blood and obtain your BAC that way.  Refusing this test can also lead to a Refusal charge.

    What you do during each of the above steps determines the strength of the case the police have against you.  Even if you decline to do all the tests and say nothing, there still may be sufficient evidence to prove your guilt.  Alternatively, even if you do all the tests and make statements, there may be insufficient evidence to prove you’re guilty.  

    You will need an experienced DUI attorney who knows the procedure for alcohol-related prosecutions to come up with the best strategy for your case, and we can help you do that.  Call us today if you are facing an alcohol-related charge to find out what defenses you may have.

  • What Are DUI Maiming Charges?

    Woman facing DUI maiming charges after DUI car accident in Fairfax, VA

    As many people quickly find out, Virginia’s DUI laws are strict and harsh.  Virginia also has a specific and separate charge when someone is driving under the influence of alcohol and consequently causes an accident with injuries.  This charge is called “DUI maiming” and can be found in Virginia Code § 18.2-51.4.  Unlike a standard DUI charge under Virginia Code § 18.2-266, which is a misdemeanor, this charge is a felony offense.  Therefore, it is much more serious and the consequences may be worse.

    DUI Maiming Statute in Virginia

    Specifically, the code states that, “any person who, as a result of driving while intoxicated in violation of § 18.2-266 or any local ordinance substantially similar thereto in a manner so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life, unintentionally causes the serious bodily injury of another person resulting in permanent and significant physical impairment shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony” (emphasis added).

    Penalties For DUI Maiming in Virginia

    A class 6 felony can carry punishments of one to five years in prison and up to $2500 in fines.  There is also a mandatory license suspension, requirements for completion of an alcohol/substance abuse program, and the required installation of an ignition interlock if a restricted license is granted.

    Similar to a DUI, there are a variety of elements that the prosecutor must prove to obtain a conviction, especially since it is a car accident case.  If you have been charged with DUI maiming, it is important that you contact the experienced DUI lawyers at Greenspun Shapiro PC immediately so that we can walk you through your defenses and make sure you receive the best representation possible.