2019 Virginia Law Changes

The following laws took effect in Virginia on July 1, 2019:

Deferral of jury service for persons who have legal custody of and are responsible for the care of a child

Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-341.2 (2019): A court may defer or limit jury service of persons who have legal custody of and are responsible for a child or children 16 years of age or younger requiring continuous care by such person during normal court hours to the term of court next after such period of responsibility ends. Under current law, persons with such responsibility are exempt upon request, but no provision is given for the court to defer such person's jury service until after such period of responsibility ends.

Prostitution and sex trafficking

Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-347 through 18.2-350 (2019): Any adult who commits an act of aiding prostitution or illicit sexual intercourse or using a vehicle to promote prostitution or unlawful sexual intercourse, when such act involves a minor, is now guilty of a Class 6 felony.

Minimum age for purchase, possession, and sale of tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products

Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-246.8, 18.2-246.10, and 18.2-371.2 (2019): Increases the minimum age for persons prohibited from purchasing or possessing tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products, and the minimum age for persons such products can be sold to, from 18 years of age to 21 years of age with an exception for active duty military personnel. Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products may be sold from a vending machine if there is posted notice of the minimum age requirements and the machine is located in a place that is not open to the general public and not generally accessible to persons under 21 years of age.

Safe reporting of overdoses

Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-251.03 (2019): You are no longer required to substantially cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation of any criminal offense reasonably related to an overdose in order to qualify for an affirmative defense from prosecution for the unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol, possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, intoxication in public, or possession of controlled paraphernalia.

Child abuse and neglect; mandatory reporters

Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1509 (2019): Ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, and duly accredited practitioners of any religious organization or denomination usually referred to as a church are now required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Clergy members are exempted from the mandatory reporting requirement when the information supporting the suspicion of child abuse or neglect (i) is required by the doctrine of the religious organization or denomination to be kept confidential or (ii) would be subject to the exemptions set forth in § 8.01-400 or 19.2-271.3 if offered as evidence in court.

Custody and visitation orders; exchange of child

Va. Code § 20-124.3 (2019): Provides that in custody and visitation cases, at the request of either party, the court may order that the exchange of a child take place at an appropriate meeting place.

Move over law

Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-861.1 (2019): Defines as reckless driving the failure to yield the right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching emergency vehicles or public utility vehicles on a highway with flashing, blinking or alternating blue, red or amber lights reckless driving. This offense is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor or, if the person’s license had been suspended or revoked due to a moving violation and the reckless driving was the sole and proximate cause of death of another, a Class 6 felony. The punishment for anyone convicted of reckless driving who, when he committed the offense, was texting while driving must include a mandatory minimum fine of $250.

How Do I Get Dash and Body Camera Recordings?

Dash and body camera recordings have changed policing and criminal prosecutions.  The recordings can resolve credibility contests between officers and the public, while also creating new legal issues and evidentiary questions. Beginning December 15, 2016, the City of Fairfax police department will equip all patrol and motor officers with body cameras.  Video of police incidents will be stored on a cloud-based server, where officers will have read-only access.  

What does this mean for you?  In all traffic and criminal matters, case preparation should include issuing a written request and/or subpoena to law enforcement for any dash and body camera footage.  The same should be issued to county 911 call centers, the Virginia Department of Transportation and local businesses to obtain any audio and video recordings of your incident.  At the very least, a letter should be sent to the proper government agency immediately after an incident to ensure that relevant recordings are preserved in case of future prosecution.

What Is the Difference Between Speeding and Reckless Driving?


In Virginia, driving 1 to 19 miles per hour over the speed limit is speeding.  The penalties for this traffic infraction are a fine and the application of negative points on your Virginia driving record:

  • 3 points for driving 1 to 9 miles per hour over the speed limit.
  • 4 points for driving 10 to 19 miles per hour over the speed limit.
  • 6 points for driving 20 or more miles per hour over the speed limit.

Reckless driving is a criminal misdemeanor that occurs when driving 20 miles per hour over the maximum speed limit, driving over 80 miles per hour or, irrespective of the maximum speed limit, driving in a manner that endangers the life, limb or property of any person (including the driver).  Reckless driving carries a maximum punishment of 12 months of incarceration, a $2,500 fine, and a 6-month license suspension.  6 negative points will also be applied to your Virginia driving record.  

In September, 2016, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles added signs along Interstates 95 and 81 to remind drivers of reckless driving laws and penalties.  

When driving this holiday season, keep these regulations in mind.  If you unfortunately receive a citation, contact Melinda VanLowe to discuss an effective defense.





Alert! New Red Light Camera Active in Fairfax City.

Cameras are poised to document drivers running red lights at four locations in Fairfax City.  Fairfax  Boulevard (Route 29) and Plantation Parkway is the latest intersection to add a photo red light enforcement camera.  Other intersections are:

  • University Drive and North Street
  • Main Street (Route 236) and Pickett Road, and
  • Fairfax Circle.  

Tickets for alleged red light violations are mailed and drivers are able to pay tickets online.  Alternatively, tickets may be challenged in the Fairfax City General District Court.  Pursuant to section 15.2-968.1 of the Code of Virginia, defenses to challenge a red light violation are asserted by (i) filing an affidavit by regular mail with the clerk of the General District Court if you were not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation, (ii) testifying in open court under oath if you were not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation, or (iii) filing a certified copy of a police report with the Fairfax City General District Court before the hearing date, showing that the vehicle had been reported to the police as stolen prior to the time of the alleged violation.  In addition to these defenses, there are potential evidentiary challenges to red light citations if the evidence used to support a citation is not gathered pursuant to the statute.  


The State of the Law: Key Supreme Court Rulings and Virginia Legislative Changes.

     The Supreme Court concluded the October 2014 term. Some notable cases  are:

  • Obergefell v. Hodges:  Strikes down state bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional and requires states to issue marriages licenses to same sex couples and recognize lawful out-of-state marriages between same sex couples.

  • Glossip v. Gross: The Court determined that Oklahoma's use of the sedative midazolam as the first part of the lethal injection protocol does violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  

  • King v. Burwell:  Upholds section 36B of "Obama Care," or The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Section, which makes tax credits available to individuals who purchase health insurance on an exchange created by the federal government.

     Amendments to the Code of Virginia have also taken effect in 2015.

  • 18.2-250.1:  In prosecutions for possession of marijuana in the form of cannabidoil oil or THC-A, defendants can now assert as an affirmative defense that they possessed such oil pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner in the course of her/his professional practice pursuant to treatment or to alleviate the symptoms of (i) the individual's intractable epilepsy or (ii) if such individual is the parent or legal guardian of a minor, such minor's intractable epilepsy.  If the defendant files the valid written certification with the court at least 10 days prior to trial and causes a copy of such written certification to be delivered to the attorney for the Commonwealth, such written certification shall be prima facie evidence that such oil was possessed pursuant to a valid written certification.

  • 18.2-50.3:   Makes it a separate and distinct class 6 felony for a person to entice, solicit, request, or otherwise cause another to enter a dwelling house if the person intends to commit certain specified crimes, including capital murder, first and second degree murder, murder of a pregnant woman, abduction with intent to extort money or for immoral purposes, aggravated malicious wounding, robbery, rape, forcible sodomy, or object sexual penetration, within the dwelling house.

  • 19.2-310.2:  Adults convicted of the following offenses must now give a sample of her/his blood, saliva or tissue for DNA analysis:  §§ 16.1-253.2 (violation of a protective order), 18.2-60.3 (stalking), 18.2-60.4 (violation of a stalking protective order), 18.2-67.4:1 (infected sexual battery), 18.2-102 (unauthorized use of animal, aircraft, vehicle, or boat valued at less than $200), 18.2-121 (entering the property of another for purpose of damaging it), 18.2-387 (indecent exposure), 18.2-387.1 (obscene sexual display), and 18.2-479.1 (resisting arrest).  The offenses are added to five misdemeanor sex offenses that already a DNA sample to be provided: (i) § 18.2-67.4 (sexual battery), (ii) § 18.2-67.4:2 (sexual abuse of a child 13 years of age or older but under 15), (iii) § 18.2-67.5 (attempted sexual battery), (iv) § 18.2-130 (peeping), and (v) § 18.2-370.6 (penetrating the mouth of a child under 13 with the tongue). 

  • 46.2-816:  Now cars shall not follow more closely than is reasonable behind bicycles, electric assistive mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, and mopeds.

  • 20-124.2:  Courts may now order child support to be paid or continue to be paid for any child over the age of 18 who is (a) severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled, and such disability existed prior to the child reaching the age of 18 or the age of 19 (b) unable to live independently and support himself; and (c) resides in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support.

Please consult The Law Office of Melinda L. VanLowe, PC, to discuss how these new laws may impact you.





How To Survive a DWI Traffic Stop.

 “I’m fine.” “I’m almost home.”  “I can make it.”  These are common phrases used to justify driving after drinking.  When driving, if you realize that you are even the slightest bit impaired,

  1. pull over to a safe place immediately (preferably a parking lot),
  2.  remove the keys from the ignition and place them on the dashboard,
  3. call for transportation from a friend, family member, colleague, or cab.

These 3 steps may save your life and prevent a DWI conviction.  Here’s why: 

Section 18.2-266 of the Code of Virginia begins by saying, “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate any motor vehicle . . .”  Section 46.2-100 defines “operator [of a motor vehicle]” as any person who “is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on a highway.”  So, in a DWI/DUI case, the prosecutor must prove that you “drove” or “operated” the car.  This may seem like a simple concept, but Virginia courts have been debating the definition of “operate” in DWI/DUI cases for years.

Presence in or around a car when stopped is not enough to prove operation.  BUT, operation can be proven by a driver’s presence plus starting the engine, or “manipulating the mechanical or electrical equipment of the vehicle without actually putting the car in motion or engaging the machinery of the vehicle which alone, or in sequence, will activate the motive power of the vehicle.”  See Rix v. Commonwealth, 282 Va. 1 (2011).   

In the Rix case, an officer saw a vehicle “weaving” on the highway and stopped the car.  While doing so, he saw the driver exchange seats with the front-seat passenger.  The driver, who had been behind the steering wheel while the car was in motion, was in the passenger seat when the officer reached the car.  The former passenger was Ellen Marie Rix (the defendant) whom the officer found sitting in the driver's seat behind the steering wheel.  The keys were in the ignition and the engine was running.  At trial, the original driver admitted she was driving the car initially and switch seats at the last minute.  The Supreme Court of Virginia still concluded that because the officer observed Ms. Rix in the driver’s seat, with the keys in the ignition she “operated” the motor vehicle and was, therefore, guilty of DWI. 

In another 2011 case decided before Rix, police found the defendant slumped over the steering wheel of his car, parked in a residential neighborhood, asleep or unconscious.  The car's radio was playing but the engine was not running and the ignition key was turned to the position that allowed the radio to operate while the engine was not running.  The gearshift was in the “park” position.  The Virginia Supreme Court opined the defendant was “operating” the vehicle, even when unconscious because, by turning the ignition key to the “on” or “accessory” position, allowing the radio to operate, he had manipulated the electrical equipment of the vehicle.  281 Va. 212 (2011)

If driving after drinking, when in doubt of your sobriety, pull over, take the keys from the ignition and call for a sober ride home.

'Tis the Season

Holiday parties. New Year’s Eve. The Super Bowl. It’s a time of celebration. Most drivers make a plan to get home safely.  In reality, even the best laid plans can lead to a traffic stop.  Often, answers to seemingly simple, routine officer questions, pave the way to a criminal charge and conviction.  The top 5 questions, commonly-asked by police officers that, if answered by you, will likely lead to a criminal charge and conviction are:

  1. Do you know why I stopped you?
  2. How fast do you think you were going?
  3. Do you know the speed limit on this road?
  4. Have you had anything to drink/How much have you had to drink?
  5. Do you have anything in the car that I should know about/May I search your car?

These questions are designed to get statements for use against the driver in court.  As an example, if you are stopped because the officer suspects you are driving on a suspended license, the officer will ask if you know that your license is suspended.  Answering “yes” is enough to convict you of a misdemeanor crime.

When stopped by a police officer, exercise your right to remain silent when confronted with incriminating questions, while also interacting with the officer in a professional manner; do not argue with the officer, even if you are correct.  Your actions and statements during a traffic stop can make the difference between the judge finding you guilty or not guilty.