Drivers in this state need to know that Virginia has some of the toughest traffic laws in the country. If you’ll keep reading, you’ll learn how traffic offenses are handled by a Fairfax traffic defense attorney, and you’ll learn what steps to take if you are ticketed – or arrested – for a traffic charge in this state.
You’ll also learn how to handle a traffic offense if you were cited in Virginia but you reside in another state.
Traffic offenses in Virginia are classified as felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions. Felonies and misdemeanors are criminal charges. Infractions are not considered criminal charges, are usually penalized with fines, and are further subdivided into moving and non-moving violations.
HOW CAN YOU BE PENALIZED FOR A TRAFFIC VIOLATION IN VIRGINIA?
Unlike other crimes in Virginia, a conviction for a criminal traffic violation in this state can result in three types of penalties:
1. The criminal penalties that may be imposed by Virginia’s criminal courts include fines and court costs, time in jail (or prison for a serious felony conviction), and a driver’s license suspension or revocation.
2. Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles can impose “administrative” penalties including “fees,” demerit points against the offender’s driver’s license, and a driver’s license suspension or revocation.
3. Auto insurance companies will increase the cost of your premiums and deductibles after a conviction for a criminal traffic violation.
HOW IS RECKLESS DRIVING HANDLED IN VIRGINIA?
Reckless driving charges in Virginia may be based exclusively on speeding. Motorists who surpass the posted speed limit by at least twenty miles per hour – and any motorist driving faster than eighty miles per hour in Virginia – can be charged with reckless driving.
Speeding, however, is not the only behavior that can trigger a reckless driving charge. If a motorist drives in a manner that a police officer thinks is reckless, that motorist may face a reckless driving charge.
Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. A conviction may be penalized with as much as a year in jail, a fine of $2,500, a six-month driver’s license suspension, and placement of six “demerit” points on the offender’s driving record.
HOW IS HIT-AND-RUN HANDLED IN VIRGINIA?
Virginia defines hit-and-run as what happens when a motorist flees a traffic accident scene without trying to assist the injured or without sharing contact and insurance details with the other driver.
Hit-and-run may be prosecuted in Virginia as a felony or as a misdemeanor. A felony charge is triggered when a driver flees an accident scene with an injury, a fatality, or damages surpassing $1,000. A felony hit-and-run conviction is punishable with a prison term of up to ten years.
If no one’s injured and the damages are under $1,000, the charge is a misdemeanor. Probation is the usual sentence for a hit-and-run conviction. The offender’s license will probably also be suspended, and restitution may be ordered if the offender caused property damage or injuries.
HOW IS DRIVING ON A SUSPENDED LICENSE HANDLED IN VIRGINIA?
Driving with a revoked or suspended license is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, punishable upon conviction with up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. However, in most cases, a first offense for driving with a revoked or suspended license does not result in a jail sentence.
HOW IS DUI HANDLED IN VIRGINIA?
A conviction for a first driving under the influence (DUI) offense is punishable with a mandatory minimum $250 and a one-year license revocation. Convicted DUI offenders must install ignition interlock devices in their personal vehicles when their license revocation periods are completed.
Second DUI convictions in Virginia may be penalized with a minimum, mandatory fine of $500 and a three-year driver’s license revocation. A second DUI conviction can also be penalized with up to a year in jail.
Jail time is mandatory in Virginia for any DUI conviction that is not a first offense. Offenders must serve twenty days in jail for a second conviction within five years of the first conviction.
WHEN IS DUI A FELONY IN VIRGINIA?
Offenders with two prior DUI convictions in the last ten years may be charged with a Class 6 felony for a third offense. Felony DUI defendants are looking at a possible one-to-five years in prison if convicted.
Offenders with a third conviction in five years must serve a minimum mandatory six months in jail; those with a third conviction in ten years must serve a minimum mandatory ninety days in jail. A mandatory fine of at least $1,000 is also imposed for a third conviction within ten years.
An intoxicated driver who is responsible for an accident that results in serious bodily injury or death may be charged with DUI as a felony – even if it’s a first offense.
WHAT IF YOU RESIDE IN ANOTHER STATE?
A Virginia felony charge almost always requires a defendant to appear in court, but in misdemeanor cases, your defense attorney may be able to obtain a “waiver of appearance” that allows your case to proceed without your personal appearance in court.
This cannot be stressed too strongly: If you reside in a different state and you’re charged in Northern Virginia with any traffic violation, you must contact a Fairfax traffic defense attorney to discuss how your case should be handled.
Failure to appear in court as scheduled is a grave mistake. A good defense lawyer will protect your rights, explain how Virginia law applies in your case, tell you when and if you must return for a court appearance, and tell you what to expect if you are convicted.
You may not know about the Interstate Driver’s License Compact. It’s an agreement among 45 of the 50 states to share information about driving offenses. It ensures that most convicted traffic offenders won’t be able to avoid their penalties simply because they live in other states.
If you live in another state, you can assume that state will enforce a driver’s license suspension or revocation imposed by a Virginia court. You can also assume that demerit points placed on your driving record in Virginia will count against your driving record in your home state.
WHAT STEPS WILL YOUR ATTORNEY TAKE?
If you are charged with any traffic violation in Virginia, fight it. When you pay any traffic ticket, you admit guilt, meaning that your auto insurance costs will probably increase and that points will probably be placed on your driving record.
A criminal traffic case is like any other criminal case. A Fairfax traffic defense attorney will try to have the charge against you dismissed. If you’re innocent, and if the charge cannot be dismissed, insist on your right to a trial, and your lawyer will advocate in court on your behalf.
If the charge against you cannot be dismissed, and if you can’t be acquitted, the right attorney will negotiate an acceptable plea agreement, and you’ll be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
Don’t ignore a traffic charge, and don’t try to act as your own lawyer. Too much is at stake, and having a good attorney’s help is your right.