Seven felony charges certified against man accused of shooting his 101 year old grandmother. Attorney Charles Homiller comments on his client's case.
All too often I receive calls from individuals who received a reckless driving charge, but didn't think it was a big deal. The problem is that by the time they call, the court date has passed, the appeal deadline has passed, and nothing can be done to alter the conviction. If only they had called sooner, I could have stopped them from making such a mistake.
As I have posted previously, reckless driving is a class I misdemeanor in Virginia, which means a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail, a $2500 fine, and a 6 month license suspension. Granted, jail time and thousands of dollars in fines are reserved for all but the most severe cases, but this should demonstrate how serious an offense reckless driving is. The degree of punishment varies significantly from one jurisdiction to another. In the central Virginia area, some courts (Henrico, Chesterfield, Richmond City) will begin imposing jail time at 90 mph, regardless of how good a driving record you have. In other jurisdictions, 100 mph may not carry any jail time at all, though you will lose your license. Most of the jurisdictions that impose jail time will also issue bench warrants should you fail to come for your trial, essentially making you a "wanted" person.
In Virginia, reckless driving has many different definitions. However, the most common offense is reckless driving by speed. Traveling at 20 miles or more over the speed limit, or simply in excess of 80 mph, is reckless driving by statute. It does not require proof of any other poor driving behavior other than speed itself. Thus, even though it may not be reckless driving in your home state to travel 81 mph, doing so in Virginia could lead to a criminal conviction.
As a result, the most important reason not to ignore your reckless driving ticket is having the opportunity to avoid the criminal conviction. Not only will the conviction be reflected on your driving record, it will also be reflected on your criminal background check, which can pose other problems in your life. Employment opportunities and security clearances are the two areas I hear of being most affected by reckless driving convictions. In many cases, we are able to negotiate or argue for a reduction or dismissal of reckless driving charges to avoid the damaging nature of such a criminal conviction.
Another damaging side effect of reckless driving convictions is on your automobile liability insurance. Now, while the exact effect of a conviction on your insurance should be discussed with your insurer, it is no secret that most if not all companies will consider raising your monthly premium if you are found guilty of reckless driving. Most increases will also last for at least a few years until you prove to your insurer that your conviction was an isolated incident. As an example, a $25/month increase in your insurance that lasts for three years would end up costing you an extra $900, which will probably far outweigh the attorney fee might pay to avoid a reckless conviction. I have even heard of premiums increasing by as much as a few hundred dollars per month!
A final consideration to make when thinking about how to handle your reckless driving charge is how the conviction would translate to your state. While in a few states, out of state convictions will not result in points to your license (insurance can still be affected), most other states will dock your driving record for a conviction. In some states, you could also run the risk of losing your driver's license even if the court in Virginia did not suspend your privilege to drive. North Carolina is the most common example that I see of a home state law imposing a secondary punishment after Virginia has imposed the primary punishment. More on this in my next post.
As you can see, Virginia takes reckless driving very seriously. I am explaining these things not to try to convince you to hire us to represent you in court (though I would be happy to), but more so to explain the serious consequences that may befall you should you just choose to ignore the ticket. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Attorney Charles Homiller has been appointed to defend a Henrico man accused of attempted abduction of a child and multiple charges of assault arising out of an incident in an Innsbrook parking lot. Follow the link to get more information from Channel 12 News.
In Virginia, a third offense driving while intoxicated within a 10 year period is punishable as a felony. In a recent decision, Stewart v. Commonwealth, the Court of Appeals reversed a Winchester Circuit Court's guilty finding on a felony DWI because the Commonwealth failed to prove that the instant offense was actually a third within 10 years. The Court of Appeals stressed that the timing element of prior convictions must also be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a felony DWI conviction to stand.
In the Stewart case, the Commonwealth introduced evidence of an arrest warrant for a second offense DWI within 5 years, as well as a circuit dispositional order for a second offense DWI. However, no evidence was presented that the second offense DWI conviction in circuit court occurred within 5 years of the defendant's first offense DWI. The problem belying the Commonwealth in this situation was that after a conviction of second offense in general district court, the defendant appealed his case to circuit court. As a result of this de novo appeal, the defendant was entitled to a brand new trial as if nothing had happened in general district court. Consequently, the defendant was also required to be rearraigned by the Court on the charge, meaning the official reading of the charge and entry of a plea. The circuit court dispositional order only reflected a guilty plea to "DWI, 2nd offense" - it did not specify that it had occurred within 5 years of the first conviction.
Because the Commonwealth failed to introduce any other evidence that the defendant pled guilty to and was found guilty of a second offense DWI within 5 years (e.g., DMV record, transcript of circuit court arraignment, etc.), the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred in convictin and sentencing the defendant to a third offense (felony) DWI.
The defendant also alleged that the Commonwealth failed to prove her first conviction occurred in Virginia, and if it did not, that the foreign statute under which she was convicted was substantially similar to Virginia's DWI statute. The Court of Appeals, though, reaffirmed that a presumption exists in the favor of the Commonwealth that prior convictions are consistent with the Virginia DWI statute. The defendant therefore bears the burden of proving that a prior conviction is inconsistent with Virginia the Virginia statute. In the absence of any rebutting evidence, the trial court must presume that prior convictions are admissible for purposes of enhancing DWI penalties.
In a case that has gained international attention, the infamous I-95 McDonalds ice cup thrower will only be sentenced to suspended time for her road rage incident.
Jessica Hall, a mother of three from North Carolina, was driving to New York when she found herself stuck in traffic on Interstate 95 in northern Virginia. After allegedly being cutoff several times by another vehicle, Ms. Hall pulled alongside the car and threw her McDonalds cup of ice into the vehicle. Though no one was injured by this act, Ms. Hall was charged with numerous offenses, the most serious of which was throwing a missile at an occupied vehicle. A class 4 felony, this charge carried with it the possibility of 2 ot 10 years in prison.
After hearing the evidence in the case, the jury in the case found the defendant guilty. Despite the fact that Ms. Hall had no prior criminal record, the jury imposed a two year prison sentence. However, in a hearing to set aside the jury's verdict, Judge Frank Hoss of the Stafford County Circuit Court decided that Ms. Hall's lack of a criminal record merited a reduction of the sentence. He instead suspended the period of incarceration and placed Ms. Hall on probation for 5 years.
What this case points out is the serious problem Virginia has with jury sentencing. A defendant charged with a felony has the option of being tried either by a judge or by a jury. While statistics suggest that bench trials (trials by a judge) are more likely to result in convictions than jury trials, judges have more options available for sentencing than does a jury.
Most important is that a judge is allowed to suspend some or all of a defendant's jail sentence - juries are not allowed to give suspended time. Another key difference is that judges are able to review sentencing guildelines. Guidelines are prepared by a probation and parole officer after a defendant has been found guilty of a felony. Point values are applied to various factors in a defendant's background, primarily consisting of past criminal convictions. Through a series of computations, a range of incarceration time is recommended by the guidelines, along with a midpoint. In many cases, the recommended sentence is significantly lower than the maximum amount provided by law. Juries are not allowed to view these guidelines, and can only select a period of incarceration that falls within the range set forth by the criminal offense statute. Finally, juries tend to be more harsh in sentencing than judges because they do not know what the "going rate" for a certain crime is. Judges on the other hand hear criminal case on a regular basis and have a larger pool of knowledge to draw on when determining what an appropriate sentence would be.
What does all this mean? Simply put, the current state of jury sentencing in Virginia discourages defendants from taking jury trials. While a conviction might be slightly more likely with a judge hearing the facts, there is a better chance of receiving a lighter or alternative sentence if convicted. The McMissile case is a perfect example of what can happen by electing for a jury trial. The punishment handed down by the jury did not fit the crime for which Ms. Hall was convicted. Fortunately, Judge Hoss was reasonable enough to recognize that the interests of justice required a departure from the jury's sentence, though this situation was certainly an exception to the rule. To avoid these types of occurrences in the future, Virginia needs to amend the current jury sentencing format by either abolishing it altogether and vesting that power with the judge exclusively, or by allowing juries to view the sentencing guidelines and impose suspended sentences. I'm not going to hold my breath for either scenario to occur in the near future.
So the police have charged you with possession of marijuana. What does that mean in the state of Virginia? Marijuana possession is prohibited by Virginia Code Section 18.2-250.1. A first offense is categorized as an unclassified misdemeanor, and punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. A second offense is categorized as a class 1 misdemeanor, an offense that carries a potential maximum punishment of 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine. A conviction for marijuana possession also carries with it a six month suspension of your driver's license.
When prosecuting drug possession cases, the state must prove that you either knowingly or intentionally possessed marijuana. Practically speaking, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt two different things. First, it must be demonstrated that you were aware you were in the possession of marijuana, and second, that you knew or should have known that the substance in your possession was actually marijuana. Possession may be actual or constructive. An example of actual possession would be finding a joint in your coat pocket, while constructive possession might be finding a bag of pot in the glove compartment of your car. In the first circumstance, the illegal drugs are on your person, while in the second scenario, they are not on your person, but are in an area that is under your control.
For obvious reasons, allegations of constructive possession are easier to defend against than actual possession. In fact, the code section prohibiting marijuana possession states that no presumption of knowing or intentional possession shall arise simply because the marijuana was found on the premises or in the vehicle that you owned or were occupying. Refer back to the marijuana in the glove compartment. By itself the location of the drugs is not sufficient to convict you. However, if the police present evidence that the vehicle was registered in your name, that you were the only one in the vehicle when the drugs were found, that you had other personal items in the glove compartment, and the vehicle smelled like marijuana, that additional evidence could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that constructively possessed the marijuana.
Even if the the state has enough evidence to secure a conviction for possession of marijuana, there is still a chance you may be able to escape from this situation without a conviction. If this is your first possession offense, the court has the option of deferring disposition of your case for 6 months. During that 6 months, you will be on community probation and will be required to remain drug and alcohol free. You will be subjected to random urine screens to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol. As part of the probation you will also be required to submit to a substance abuse screening and treatment program if necessary. Additionally, you will have to perform a set amount of community service, in most marijuana cases no more than 24 hours. The court may impose any other terms and conditions of probation that it sees fit for your individual situation. Finally, your driver's license will be suspended during your 6 month probationary period. However, we can request that the judge issue you a restricted license so that you can drive to and from work, school, doctor's appointments, court related appointments and child care services. While this may seem like a lot of work on your part, it is worth it in the long run. If at the end of the 6 months you have satisfied all the terms and conditions, the judge will dismiss the charge without entering a finding of guilt. However, if you fail to satisfy any conditions of the deferred disposition, the judge will find you guilty and sentence you accordingly.
If you have been charged with a marijuana, narcotic, or prescription drug offense, please contact our office at (804)217-9898 to discuss your charge and what options you may have. Attorney Charles Homiller regularly represents individuals across the Central Virginia region who have been charged with drug offenses, as well as most other criminal and traffic offenses.
Falling in line with a majority of other states, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently upheld the constitutional validity of the statute criminalizing an unreasonable refusal to submit to a blood or breath test when charged with DWI. The case of Rowley v. Commonwealth presented a challenge to Virginia Code Section 18.2-268.3 alleging that it violated the protections afforded by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution.
Section 18.2-268.3, which is a provision of the Virginia implied consent law, requires an individual arrested on suspicion of DWI to provide a sample of his breath or blood for a determination of his blood alcohol content. This requirement is imposed by one's operation of a motor vehicle on the highways of the state of Virginia. By using the roads of Virginia, you are impliedly consenting to the taking of this sample by the police. A refusal to submit to the test, whether expressly or by actions that prevent the test from being administered, will result in a charge of unreasonably refusing to submit to the test. A first offense carries with it a 12 month license suspension for which a restricted license is not available. Upon conviction of a second offense, the court may impose jail time.
In the Rowley case, the defendant argues on appeal that the refusal statute violated his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. His argument more or less contended that the state could not compel him to produce evidence against himself by requiring his submission to a blood or breath test. The Court of Appeals, however, found that one's right against self-incrimination is limited only to testimonial communications, meaning evidence that would be given verbally. A blood or breath test, according to the court, is non-testimonial in nature, just as fingerprints, voice recordings, and suspect lineups are non-testimonial. Moreover, the court refused to find that compelled submission to a breath test was transformed into testimonial evidence merely because criminal prosecution was the outcome for failing to comply.
The court in Rowley also determined that the refusal statute did not violate an individual's right against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. The police typically may not search an individual without a warrant or probable cause, or else the fruits of the search will be deemed inadmissibile as evidence since they resulted from an unreasonable search. However, a person's consent to a search will obviate the need for a warrant or probable cause, thus allowing the police to conduct a legally effective search. Because, as stated above, one's use of the roads of Virginia results in an implied consent to the blood or breath test, the court found that the statute compelling such test does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
While the majority of courts have upheld the constitutionality of so-called DUI refusal statutes, this is a perfect example of how DUI prosecution defies legal logic. To compare the taking of one's blood or breath to fingerprinting or voiceprinting is comparing apples to oranges. The former is an intrusion into one's body, while the other is not. One's blood alcohol content is not a physical characteristic that is being displayed in plain view for all to see. Certainly a person's gait, balance, speech pattern, and other external physical indicators of intoxication are nontestimonial evidence that can be admitted against a defendant. However, to compel an intrusion into a person's body to acquire scientific evidence of intoxication for the purpose of prosecuting that person, all under the threat of separate prosecution for a failure to comply, falls well within the protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck.....I guess we must conduct a blood or breath test to make sure it is a duck.
In a typical week, I will receive several phone calls or email from persons wanting to "expunge" a charge from their criminal record. Many times this is desired because of a job application, but other reasons include personal dignity, adoption, foster care or other situations that require background checks. Unfortunately, most of the people I speak to are not eligible for expungement, even though they claim that a charge was "dismissed" against them. Virginia law has strict requirements for when an expungement of a criminal charge is available to a citizen, and even when available, there is still no guarantee a court will grant it.
So when is someone eligible to have a criminal charge expunged? Virginia Code Section 19.2-392.2 is the governing statute, and sets forth three situations. The first is if you are found not guilty of a charge by the court. The second is if the commonwealth attorney takes a nolle prosequi or the charge is otherwise dismissed against the defendant. Third, an expungement may be ordered if the defendant is granted an absolute pardon for a crime of which he was unjustly convicted. The key to remember with all three scenarios is that an expungement will only be available to a defendant who is innocent.
With that being said, some types of misdemanor crimes are dismissed by courts after taking the case "under advisement" for a period of time. This scenario usually follows a finding by the judge that there is sufficient evidence to make a finding of guilt. However, instead of convicting and sentencing the defendant, the court may order community service to be completed, restitution to be paid, unsupervised probation, or any number of other conditions. Following a duration of time set by the court, if all the conditions have been met by the defendant, the court will dismiss the charge against the defendant. Examples of offenses where this type of arrangement is found include possession of marijuana, domestic or simple assault, and shoplifting.
As you recall, the expungement statute states that a charge "otherwise dismissed" may be eligible for expungement. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the statute as not to include the situation I described above, where a defendant must satisfy certain conditions set by the court in order to achieve a dismissal of the charge against him. The theory behind this is that expungement is an option only available to innocent persons. The Supreme Court does not connote innocence to situations in which the court finds there is enough evidence to support a guilty conviction, but allows the defendant an opportunity to make up for the mistake by performing certain acts or remaining out of trouble.
The bottom line with expungement is that it is not an available option if you have been found guilty of an offense, or if you have satisfied certain conditions in order to obtain a dismissal. Only when a judge declares you not guilty, the commonwealth nolle prosses your case, or you are pardoned for an unjust conviction can you petition the circuit court for an expungement.
If you have been acquitted of a criminal offense or had the charge nolle prossed or dismissed, contact the Law Office of Charles Homiller at (804)523-2999 for information on how to get it erased from your record. Our experienced criminal defense practice is dedicated to preserving your dignity and livelihood when you have been wrongfully accused of a crime.
May 01, 2006 in Aggressive Driving, Assault, Battery, Blog, Criminal Law, Driving Under the Influence, Driving While Impaired, Drunk Driving, DUI, DWI, False Pretenses, Firearms Offense, Fraud, Larceny, Law, Malicious Wounding, Reckless Driving, Suspended License, Traffic Law, Weapons Offense, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
As I have previously discussed, Virginia Code Section 18.2-57.2, the so-called domestic assault statute, criminalizes the assault and battery of a family or household member. My emphasis of "and" will become apparent later in this article. You may recall that on a first offense family assault, the judge has the option of deferring a judgment of guilt while placing the defendant on local probation, including the completion of an anger management class. If after two years the defendant has complied with all terms of probation, the case will be dismissed. This outcome is only available on violations of 18.2-57.2.
Virginia Code Section 18.2-57 is the simple assault statute. As written, it merely criminalizes the assault of another person, not the assault and battery of an individual. What is the difference bewteen assault and battery you may ask. A battery is defined as an illegal or offensive touching of another person. An assault is an act that puts some in fear or apprehension of suffering a battery. If I raise my fist in anger at you, that could be an assault, but not a battery. If I swing and hit you, that would be both and assault and a battery.
Now to my point. In juvenile and domestic relations court this morning, I had a female client charged with an 18.2-57.2 assault and battery against her boyfriend, who is also the father of her child. My client was convinced that she was innocent. I could not convince her otherwise. According to her, her boyfriend had been picking on her all day while they sat around the house drinking. After about 8 hours of this conduct, my client walked over to her boyfriend, swung at him, but missed. She then walked to another room, where her boyfriend followed her. As he came towards her with his hands out to grab her, my client popped him twice in the mouth and kicked him in the leg.
Despite my advice, my client insisted on telling her story to the judge, as she was sure she was innocent. After listening to her testimony, the judge asked for argument on the facts. The only argument I could make was that the battery was justified as self-defense since the boyfriend came at her after she retired to another room. The judge agreed there was no battery, and thus she was not guilty of a 57.2 violation. However, the judge also determined that her initial swing and miss constituted an assault under 18.2-57, as there was no actual battery. He then convicted her of a simple assault, as it was a lesser included offense of the original charge.
The problem with this decision is that the Virginia Code does not allow for a deferred disposition on simple assaults like it does for domestic assaults. Consequently, my client now has a conviction on her record and a suspended sentence hanging over her head, whereas if she had not testified, she would have been placed on probation with the possiblity of having the charge dismissed in two years.
Now, this outcome was my client's own doing. I advised her not to testify, and I advised her to take the deferred disposition, but she chose not to do so. However, it seems peculiar to me that the legislature would allow for a deferred dispostion on a first offense domestic assault and battery, but not offer a similar alternative for the lesser included offense of simple assault. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect in drafting these laws to allow someone who is for all intents and purposes guilty of a more serious crime the opportunity to have it dismissed, but not provide the same opportunity to someone guilty of a less serious offense.