Your Virginia Criminal Law Questions Answered

After being charged with a crime in Virginia, most people have many concerns. What do I do now? Do I have any options? Do I need a lawyer? How do I find the right lawyer? Our experienced criminal defense attorneys offer their take on these questions and many more to help you understand more about your rights and options under the law. Don’t see your question here? Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Call our Fairfax office at (703) 352-0100, or fill out our online contact form today.

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  • What are some possible defenses if you’re a driver who is accused of leaving the scene of an accident?

    Hit and Run Traffic SignVirginia Code §46.2-894 requires drivers to do three things. Drivers should: (1) stop as close as they can to the accident scene without obstructing traffic, (2) report their name, address, driver’s license number and vehicle registration number to the police, and (3) provide reasonable assistance for anyone injured in the crash. The failure to do any of these things is a crime known as leaving the scene of the accident.

    If the crash resulted only in property damage valued at $1,000 or less, then leaving the scene of the accident is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A Class 1 misdemeanor carries a potential sentence of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both jail time and a fine.

    Leaving the scene of an accident where an injury or death occurred, or where the property damage is valued at $1,000 or more is a Class 5 felony, which is punishable by a jail term of one to ten years and a fine of up to $2,500.

    Potential Hit and Run Defenses

    If you are accused of leaving the scene of an accident, then you need to consider your potential defenses. Our experienced Fairfax criminal defense lawyers will consider exactly what happened and develop a comprehensive criminal defense strategy for your unique case.

    Some of the defenses that we will consider include:

    • There is reasonable doubt that you committed any aspect of the alleged crime
    • Your injuries prevented you from remaining at the accident scene, and you reported the accident as soon as you could
    • The police didn’t follow proper procedures
    • You weren’t the driver at the time of the accident (in these cases, another law may apply)
    • There was no injury, death, or property damage
    • You hit an unattended car and left a note after a reasonable attempt to find the owner

    Virginia’s hit and run laws are complicated, and the consequences of a conviction are significant. Accordingly, we encourage you to contact our understanding Virginia criminal defense lawyers for a thorough review of your case and to discuss your potential defense. Please call us or reach out to us through this website today to set up your initial meeting.


  • When does a protective order end?

    Expired StampWhen your protective order ends depends on how it ends. If nothing is done to end a protective order early or to extend it, then the protective order expires on the date contained in the order or, if no date is provided, then two years from the date the protective order was issued. Protective orders end at 11:59 p.m. on the last day that they are valid.

    Protective Orders May Be Extended or Terminated Early

    Virginia law allows protective orders to be extended or terminated. Specifically, Virginia Code §19. 2-152.10 provides that:

    • Protective order extensions may be granted any time before the protective order is set to expire. According to Virginia Code §19. 2-152.10B, the person requesting the extension must file a written motion with the court. The court may extend the protective order for up to two years if the court feels that is appropriate after hearing evidence. The new expiration date of the protective order will either be included in the protective order or be two years from the date the protective order extension was granted.
    • Protective order terminations may be granted any time before the protective order is set to expire. Virginia Code §19. 2-152.10G allows either party to the protective order to file a written motion with the court seeking early termination of the order.

    Both motions to extend protective orders and to terminate protective orders are given priority on the court’s calendar.

    Are You Ready for Your Protective Order to End?

    If you are seeking to terminate your protective order early or to keep it from being extended, then we encourage you to contact our Virginia protective order attorneys today. You must act carefully to avoid violating the protective order that is in place and to achieve your legal goals.

    Our experienced Fairfax protective order lawyers are here to help you at each step of the way. Whether an initial protective order is being sought against you, someone is trying to modify the order, or you want to terminate the order, we may be able to help you. Please contact us through this website or call us directly to learn more.


  • How can I terminate a protective order in Virginia?

    Judge Signing a Protection OrderIf you are subject to a Virginia protective order, then you have two choices. You can wait until the protective order expires, or you can take action to end the protective order early.

    Virginia courts can issue full protective orders for up to two years. Your protective order may have a specific date when it expires. If it does, then the protective order ends at 11:59 p.m. on that date. If it does not, then it ends at 11:59 p.m. two years from the date it was issued.

    How to End a Protective Order Early

    You may have good reason to want to end the full protective order early. Virginia Code § 19.2-152.10(G) allows either party to a protection order to file a written motion with the court to dissolve (or modify) the protection order.  Although the statute allows either party to file a written motion, the court will only make a decision after listening to evidence.

    If you wish to try to end the protective order early, then you should do so carefully. You must go to court and the person who initially requested the protective order will also need to be noticed and attend court as well.  However, you could violate the protective order just by contacting that person. Therefore, you should consult with an experienced Virginia protective order before taking any action.

    Your attorney will advise you of all of your rights and options. If the person who requested the protection order is not in agreement, then the court will look very carefully at all of the facts, including your recent behavior, compliance with the protective order, and compliance with any other court or probation matters. 

    Some of the evidence you should be prepared to provide to the court include:

    • Probation records
    • Any relevant information about child custody or visitation
    • Statements from relatives and other people in your life
    • Documentation about any rehabilitation you’ve undergone since the protective order was issued
    • Documentation from your employer about whether you are showing up for work, your attitude on the job, and other relevant information

    Protective orders have significant consequences, and we are here to help you navigate the legal system before and after a protective order is issued. Please call our experienced Fairfax protective order defense lawyers today to learn more.


  • What is money laundering, and what are the possible penalties if I’m convicted of money laundering in Virginia?

    Money Laundering Touch IconMoney laundering involves conducting a financial transaction with money derived from illegal activity. Virginia Code § 18.2-246.3 makes it a crime to use money obtained illegally in a financial transaction, and it makes it a crime to use money obtained illegally in cash conversions. While both offenses are money laundering, the crimes and the potential penalties are different.

    Money Laundering Financial Transactions

    Virginia Code §18.2-246.3(A) makes it illegal to conduct a financial transaction if you know the property involved in the transaction is the proceeds of an activity that is a felony in Virginia, any other state or territory, Washington D.C., or the United States.

    For example, it is against the law to invest money in a legal business if you know the money came from selling illegal drugs.

    The penalty for money laundering in this way is imprisonment for up to 40 years, a fine of up to $500,000, or both jail time and a fine.

    Money Laundering Cash Conversions

    The second money laundering crime is found in Virginia Code §18.2-246.3(B). According to this section of the law, it is illegal for a person to convert cash into negotiable instruments or electronic funds for someone else for compensation if the person knows the cash is the proceeds of an activity that is a felony in Virginia, any other state or territory, Washington D.C., or the United States.

    The first time a person is convicted of this crime, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction include a jail term of up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

    If a person is convicted of this crime for a second or subsequent time, it is a Class 6 felony. The possible penalties for a Class 6 felony include a jail term of not more than five years and/0r a fine of not more than $2,500.

    Contact a Virginia Money Laundering Defense Lawyer Today

    Money laundering is a serious crime with significant potential penalties. However, there are possible defenses that could apply to your case. For example, if you acted under duress, if you did not know the money was obtained illegally, or if you lacked the intent to commit the crime, then you should not be found guilty of money laundering in Virginia.

    Our experienced white-collar criminal defense lawyers will review every aspect of your defense and advise you so that you can protect your future. Call us, or contact us through this website, to learn more.


  • When may I be eligible for an expungement in Virginia?

    Criminal Record Expungement Torn PaperworkAn expungement can benefit you in many ways. An expungement will make your arrest record inaccessible to the public. That means that if your record is expunged, then potential employers, landlords, and others will not be able to find evidence of your prior arrest, and you will not be required to disclose your arrest or charge to potential employers or others in Virginia.

    Expungement Eligibility

    According to Virginia Code § 19.2-392.2, you may be eligible for an expungement if you have been charged with a crime and one of the following statements is true:

    • You are acquitted (i.e., found not guilty)
    • The Commonwealth’s attorney decides not to prosecute you (nolle prosequi)
    • The charges against you are otherwise dismissed, but without a finding of guilt of a finding that the evidence was sufficient for a finding of guilt
    • The crime was committed by someone else who used your identity

    You may not get an expungement if you pled nolo contendre (or no contest) to the charges against you, were convicted, or entered a guilty or no contest plea agreement. In addition, if your charge was dismissed pursuant to a first-offender program, such as the first-offender drug deferral program under Virginia Code § 18.2-251 or the first offense program for domestic assault under §18.2-57.3, then you may not seek an expungement.

    Your prior record and the severity of the charges against you will be important when the Court is deciding whether or not to grant your expungement. A different standard is applied for people with no other prior criminal record who are arrested for misdemeanors. Specifically:

    • If this was your first offense and the charge against you was a misdemeanor rather than a felony, then the Commonwealth must show good cause why the expungement should not be granted. If the Commonwealth cannot show good cause, then the expungement will be granted.
    • If you have a prior arrest record or you were charged with a felony, then you need to show that the continued existence of your arrest record would constitute a manifest injustice. That requires proof of the harm you face from having the offense appear on your record, such as denial of employment or educational opportunities.

    In either circumstance, you must request an expungement from the Circuit Court of the judicial district in which your original case was heard.

    How to Get an Expungement

    To get an expungement, you must file a petition and obtain a certified copy of your arrest warrant or indictment. Both documents should be filed in the Circuit Court where the charges against you were resolved. Then:

    • The petition is served on the Commonwealth's Attorney. The Commonwealth has 21 days to respond, although they are not always required to file a written answer.
    • You get fingerprinted. You must get a full set of fingerprints from a law enforcement agency. You must provide a copy of your expungement petition to that law enforcement agency to be provided to Virginia State Police.
    • The law enforcement agency submits your fingerprints to the Central Criminal Records Exchange with a copy of your expungement petition.
    • Central Criminal Records Exchange sends a copy of your criminal history, a copy of the Central Criminal Records Exchange documents you want expunged, and your fingerprints to the Court.
    • The Court will rule on your expungement, and if it is granted, it will forward the necessary information to the Virginia State Police to complete the expungement process. Finally, once your records have been expunged, Virginia State Police will send a letter confirming the completion of the expungement process.

    An expungement can improve your future by removing a significant barrier to entry for jobs, schools, and other opportunities.

    Don’t try to do this alone. You have too much at stake. Instead, consult an experienced Fairfax expungement attorney to make sure you have grounds for an expungement and that you take all of the required steps to get the relief you seek. Contact our Fairfax criminal law attorneys today to learn more.


  • What penalties may I face if I violate a protective order in Virginia?

    Protective Order Paperwork and GavelYou face potential criminal charges if you violate an emergency protective order, a preliminary protective order, or a full protective order in Virginia. The charges and the potential penalties depend on the exact circumstances of your alleged violation.

    Misdemeanor Penalties for Violating VA Protective Orders

    Virginia Code § 16.1-253.2 provides that a violation of any provision of an emergency protective order, preliminary protective order, or permanent protective order is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor:

    • For the first offense. The penalty for a Class 1 misdemeanor is a possible jail term of up to 12 months, a fine of up to $2,500, or both a jail term and a fine up to those limits.
    • For the second time. If your second conviction is within five years of your first conviction and at least one of the convictions was based on an act or threat of violence, then your Class 1 misdemeanor penalty will include a 60 day mandatory minimum period of confinement. It could also include jail time up to one year and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

    Felony Penalties for Violating VA Protective Order

    A Virginia court may find you guilty of a Class 6 felony if you violate any provision of any type of protective order:

    • For a third or subsequent time within 20 years of first conviction if at least one of the offenses was an act or threat of violence. In these cases, you will face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months, and you could face a jail term of one to five years and a fine of up to $2,500.
    • While knowingly armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon. You could face a penalty of not less than one year and not more than five years in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. The penalty for violating the protective order is in addition to any sentence you may face for having a firearm or deadly weapon.
    • Committing an assault and battery resulting in bodily injury to the person protected by the protective order. The potential penalty for a Class 6 felony, in this case, is a jail term of one to five years and a fine of up to $2,500. You may also face charges and penalties for the assault and battery.
    • Stalking a person protected by the protective order. If you are found guilty of stalking a person who has a protective order against you, then you could face one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500 in addition to any penalties you face if you are found guilty of stalking.
    • Entering the home of the person protected by the protective order while the person is home, or remaining in the home until the person returns. As with the examples provided above, you may face one to five years in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, and any penalties for charges related to the breaking and entering of the home.

    For all felony and misdemeanor protective order violations, a jail sentence must be imposed even if a minimum jail time is not specified. Virginia law specifically prevents a court from suspending an entire jail sentence for people convicted of violating protective orders, meaning a conviction for any protective order violation will result in an active jail or prison sentence. Additionally, all convictions must result in the entry of a protective order for a period of up to two years. As with any criminal conviction, protective order violations will appear on your permanent record.

    Take All Charges Seriously—Talk to a VA Protective Order Lawyer

    Your freedom and your future are at stake. Don’t take any chances with your defense. Instead, contact our experienced Fairfax protective order attorneys today through this website or by phone to learn how we may be able to help with your defense.


  • What is the difference between an expungement and an appeal?

    Word Cloud With Words Related to Appeals and ExpungementsExpungements and appeals have different legal procedures and different potential outcomes. To make an educated decision about whether to pursue an expungement or appeal in your Virginia criminal case, it is important to understand both legal options and to contact an experienced Virginia criminal lawyer for help.


    If an expungement is successful, then it is as if you were never charged with a crime. All records having to do with the alleged crime are erased. You can go about your life as if you were never arrested, and potential employers and others who conduct background checks will not be able to find any record of the criminal charges you faced.

    In Virginia, you may be eligible for expungement if:

    • You were acquitted
    • The charge was nolle prossed (dismissed) and the Commonwealth does not intend to bring the charge back within one year

    If you have never been convicted of a crime and the charge you are seeking to expunge was a misdemeanor, then you may get an expungement unless the government’s attorney convinces the court that there is good cause not to grant the expungement.

    If you have been previously convicted of a crime or if the charge against you was a felony, then you have to convince the court that it would be a manifest injustice to keep the charge against you from being expunged.


    You must have been convicted of a crime to pursue an appeal. You may be able to seek an appeal if:

    • Your case was heard by a general district court. In Virginia, you have the right to appeal to a circuit court if your case was decided by a general district court.
    • Your case was heard by a circuit court and one or more of your legal rights was violated. In this situation, you may appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals. However, in some cases you must petition for an appeal. In other words, you must request permission that your appeal be heard; therefore, it is a process best navigated with the assistance of an attorney.

    Common reasons for appeal include incorrect jury instructions, improperly admitted evidence, juror misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel.

    On appeal, the court may decide to affirm the decision of the lower court, vacate the ruling of the lower court, or reverse the judgment of the lower court and send the case back to the lower court to be tried again.

    Contact a Virginia Criminal Lawyer for Help

    Expungements and appeals are different, but if you pursue either legal option, then you may benefit from the help of an experienced Fairfax criminal law attorney. Contact our lawyers today to discuss all of your legal choices.


  • 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.

  • 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 is a protective order? What are the different types of protective orders?

    When referencing restraining orders or court orders prohibiting contact between individuals, you have probably heard the terms “emergency protective order,” “two-year protective order,” and “preliminary protective order” used interchangeably.  However, while they are all forms of restraining orders, they each have a different meaning.  

    Why Do People Get Protective Orders?

    Abused spouse seeking protection order in Virginia

    Protective orders are necessary and highly beneficial in a lot of abusive relationships, but people will often seek protective orders unnecessarily to gain leverage in domestic disputes.  Protective orders are civil matters; therefore, if you are served with a protective order it is not a criminal charge and you will not have a criminal record.  However, protective orders often go hand-in-hand with criminal matters.  Regardless of the reason, it is important you seek counsel if you need a protective order or have been served with one.

    Where Are Protective Order Hearings Held?

    Hearings will be held in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court if the alleged abuse is committed against a family or household member; otherwise, the hearing will be held in the General District Court.

    What Are The Different Types of Protective Orders?

    1. Emergency Protective Order

    An emergency protective order pursuant to Virginia Code § 16.1-253.4 is typically issued by a magistrate or judge upon the request of a law enforcement officer who issued a warrant for domestic assault and battery.  In other words, if someone is arrested for domestic assault, an emergency protective order will be issued to protect the victim.  These protective orders are short and only last for 72 hours.  The purpose of an emergency protective order is to provide the victim a safe window of time to file for a preliminary protective order.

    2. Preliminary Protective Order

    Preliminary protective orders pursuant to Virginia Code § 16.1-253.1 are the first step toward obtaining a permanent protective order.  Preliminary protective orders are issued by a judge if the victim can establish probable cause that he or she was recently abused or is in reasonable fear of being abused.  If abuse has been established, the judge will grant a preliminary protective order, which lasts for 15 days.  Because the respondent, or person against which the preliminary protective order is filed, has the right to have his or her side heard, a full hearing on the matter is set within those 15 days.  A judge will hear the evidence and then determine whether or not to grant a permanent protective order.

    3. Two-Year Protective Order

    A two-year protective order may be issued pursuant to Virginia Code § 19.2-152.1.  While many people refer to this as a “permanent” protective order, it is not permanent because it can only be issued for a maximum of two years in Virginia.  To grant the two-year protective order, a judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the victim has suffered an act of family abuse (Virginia Code § 16.1-228) or an act of violence, force or threat (Virginia Code § 19.2-152.7:1), placing him or her in fear. 

    What Kind of Protection or Relief Can I Get with a Protective Order?

    Virginia Code § 16.1-279.1 provides the remedies and relief the court can grant with the issuance of a two-year protective order.  This can range from exclusive use and possession of a residence and/or car, to temporary visitation, custody and/or child support related to couples’ children.

    What is a Protective Order Violation?

    Violation of a protective order can have serious consequences such as mandatory jail time and misdemeanor or felony convictions (Virginia Code § 16.1-253.2).  In other words, although the issuance of a protective order does not mean you have a criminal record, if you violate the order, you will be charged criminally.  You can violate a protective order simply by sending a text message or email, if the order requires absolutely no contact.  It is possible to fashion a protective order to allow for some communication if necessary (such as in cases of parents with shared custody of children); however, the court’s order must be strictly followed. 

    Can I Extend the Protective Order for More Than Two Years?

    Virginia Code § 19.2-152.10:B allows a protective order to be extended prior to the expiration of the two years if the court finds the victim needs further protection. 

    Each order provides a source of safety and protection to someone who has been abused; however, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney at Greenspun Shapiro if you would like to petition for a protective order or have been served with a protective order.