AUTO REPAIRS

If you are looking for a car repair, you may want to call around first, to see if you can get a free estimate on the cost of the repair from a car shop. If your car is less than 25 years old, the cost of the repair should not exceed the estimate by more than ten percent. Keep in mind that repair shops are allowed to charge a reasonable fee for preparation of the estimate. The shop must offer to return any replaced parts to you unless the supplier is required to ship the parts to the manufacturer or distributor under a warranty agreement or for some other reason. Finally, except for work advertised on a single-price basis, auto repair shops must provide the customer a written invoice clearly indicating the charges for parts and labor and also indicating which parts are used, rebuilt, or reconditioned. 

CREDIT REPORTS

The Federal Trade Commission has required each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to provide consumers with free credit reports every twelve months and has also required them to create a single website where consumers can request the reports online. It is a good idea to check periodically your credit report for unexpected data or mistakes. You should also check it two or three months before applying for a car or home loan. You might find reports of unpaid bills that aren't true, or you might discover that someone has stolen your identity and applied for credit under your name.

You're also entitled to a free report anytime you are denied credit, employment, or insurance based on the contents of your credit report. The company that denied your application will inform you if the denial was based on a credit report. In that case, you must contact the credit bureau directly. You should always check your credit report in such a situation to make sure the report is accurate.   The denial of credit might have been based on wrong information.

If you do find wrong or outdated information on your credit report, inform the credit bureau. They will contact the creditor and try to verify whether their information is correct or not. If not, they must fix the report.

In 2008, Virginia joined a long list of states that allow consumers to put a security freeze on their credit reports. With certain limitations Virginia consumers can prevent credit bureaus from releasing any information in their credit reports to third parties. This is a useful tool in preventing ID theft. If you freeze access to your credit report, an ID thief will have a hard time opening credit accounts in your name because the creditor will have a hard time getting your credit report. Note that freezing access to your credit report can also make it more difficult for legitimate creditors to get your credit report.

TOWING

Blacksburg is a small town with a lot of students, which makes parking limited and sometimes difficult. Most private parking places have various restrictions and/or come with some type of parking permit. If you park somewhere where parking is prohibited, or a permit is required but you do not have one (or have one that is no longer valid), you risk that your vehicle will be towed by a towing company. This is especially true for residential complexes, where landlords will usually contract with a private towing company to frequently patrol the parking lot of the residential complex and tow illegally parked vehicles. To release your vehicle from the towing company, the vehicle owner must pay the towing and storage charges imposed by the towing company. If you cannot find your vehicle where you left it, and you are afraid it may have been towed, you can call Blacksburg Police Department at 540-961-1150, and they will be able to tell you if your vehicle has been reported as towed by a private towing company. The towing charges are established by state law, in Title 46.2 of the Virginia Code, Chapter 12, Sections 46.2-1231 and 46.2-1233.1. In addition, the Blacksburg Code of Ordinances, in Sections 12-416 to 12-425 provides more detailed regulations on the towing operations, charges, etc.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU'VE FOLLOWED ALL OF THESE TIPS AND STILL HAVE A PROBLEM?

If you're a VT student, make an appointment to see the SLS Attorney.

TRAFFIC OFFENSES

Traffic offenses are described in the Motor Vehicle section of the Virginia Code, Title 46.2, Chapter 8. You can check the Virginia Code online
The majority of the traffic offenses in Virginia are in the category of "infractions", which means that they are not criminal offenses (misdemeanors or felonies), and are not punishable as criminal offenses. The penalty for a conviction of a traffic infraction is usually a fine, specified for that particular traffic infraction. In addition, pursuant to a conviction of a traffic infraction, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will also assess so called "demerit" points on your license (click on the DMV link further down in the text to find out more information on demerit points.). A conviction of a traffic infraction will not appear on your criminal record, but it will appear on your driving record.

However, there are also more serious traffic offenses that are categorized by the Virginia Code as criminal offenses (misdemeanors or felonies), and are punishable as criminal offenses, which means that the penalty for a conviction will include not only a fine, but there may also be jail time, and a suspension of license. A conviction of a traffic offense that is also a criminal offense will appear both on your criminal record and your driving record. The most common examples of VA traffic offenses that are criminal offenses, are DWI and the various forms of reckless driving. Both of these are a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia.

DMV POINTS

For each moving violation you are convicted of (whether a criminal offense or a traffic infraction), the DMV assesses demerit points on your license. The number of demerit points assessed against you depends on the severity of the traffic violation. You can also be awarded safe driving points by not getting any tickets during a calendar year or by taking a DMV-approved driving course. The safe driving points counteract demerit points. If you accumulate too many demerit points in a certain period of time, the DMV will suspend your driving privileges. To learn more about the points system check out what the DMV says about points.

RECKLESS DRIVING

The various forms of reckless driving are specified in Title 46.2 of the Virginia Code, Chapter 8, Article 7, Sections 46.2-852 to 46.2-868.1. Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and $2,500 fine, either or both. In addition, upon conviction of reckless driving, the court may suspend your license for a period of up to six months. Upon conviction of reckless driving, the VA DMV will also assess six demerit points on your license. Finally, it is very likely that upon finding out about your conviction of reckless driving, your insurance company may decide to increase your car insurance premiums.

The most common type of reckless driving is reckless driving by speed, which is speeding over 80 mph on any highway in VA, or speeding 20 or more miles over the speed limit. Another common type of reckless driving is by driving in a manner that endangers others on the road.
If you have received a summons for reckless driving, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible, and find out what your options are.

DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED

Virginia law makes it illegal to operate any motor vehicle under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, as enumerated in Title 18.2 of the Virginia Code, Chapter 7, Section 18.2-266. See Virginia Code online here Virginia Code online.

To learn more about DUI or DWI, check out our separate DUI FAQ.

"BABY" DUI/DWI

The phrase "Baby DUI" is used to refer to the offense in Section 18.2-266.1 of Chapter 7 of Title 18.2 of the Virginia Code, Virginia Code online which makes it unlawful for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a vehicle after unlawful consumption of alcohol. If you're arrested for a Baby DUI and your BAC tests at a level of 0.02 or higher, you are presumed guilty; however, this is just a presumption, and not a requirement. You can be convicted even if you aren't tested, as long as the arresting officer can prove that you operated a motor vehicle after unlawfully consuming alcohol. A conviction under this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or mandatory minimum of 50 hours community service, and a suspension of driving privileges for a period of one year from the date of conviction. This is in addition to the punishment you might receive for a conviction of Underage Alcohol Possession. See the DUI FAQ.

GETTING PULLED OVER

If you're driving along and a police car pulls up behind you with its lights flashing, pull over as soon as you safely can. If you're on a highway, pull as far onto the shoulder as you can and stop. Turn off any distractions (such as the radio), roll down your window, and turn off the engine. If it's dark outside, turn on your emergency flashers and your interior light. Don't get out of the car unless the officer asks you to! Keep your seat belt on, and keep your hands in plain view, preferably on the steering wheel. Your passengers should do the same. If an officer can't see your hands or sees you reaching for something, he might think you're hiding contraband or holding a weapon. If the officer asks for a document (such as your license, car registration, or insurance card), tell him where it is and reach for it slowly.

If you have questions about why you were pulled over, hold them until the officer finishes. If you disagree with the officer, don't argue; save your arguments for court. If the officer asks you to sign the ticket, do so. Signing the ticket doesn't mean you agree with the officer; it just means that you promise to either appear in court or pre-pay the fine. If you don't sign, the officer can arrest you and take you before a magistrate who might require you to post bail before you're allowed to leave.

OUT-OF-STATE TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

Most states are participants in an agreement ("The Driver License Compact") that requires member states to send information to the home state of any driver convicted of a traffic violation. For example, if you're licensed to drive in Virginia and you are convicted of a DUI in Maryland, Maryland is required to inform Virginia of your conviction. Virginia will then place the conviction on your DMV record. Minor offenses sometimes don't get placed on your record but major ones will, and then your insurance company will find out and possibly raise your rates.

If you're an out-of-state driver and you're convicted of an offense in Virginia that would normally result in a suspended license, Virginia can't suspend your license. Instead, Virginia will suspend your privilege to drive in the Commonwealth and notify your home state. Then your home state will likely suspend your license. So having an out-of-state license usually doesn't help you avoid a license suspension.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU'VE BEEN CHARGED WITH A TRAFFIC VIOLATION?
If you're a VT student, make an appointment to see the SLS Attorney.

AT THE SCENE OF THE ACCIDENT

If you are involved in an automobile accident, the first thing to do is to prevent further collisions. Normally, you should leave your car where it is until police arrive, but if the accident occurred in a location that isn't easily seen by on-coming traffic, move your vehicle to a safe location if possible. (Note that in certain localities with heavy traffic congestion on the freeways, there are signs indicating that vehicles should be moved to the shoulder as soon as possible in cases of minor fender benders.) If your car can't be moved and visibility is low due to darkness or bad weather, turn on your emergency flashers and alert on-coming traffic of danger by setting out road flares well ahead of the accident. If fuel is leaking from your car, do not turn on your emergency flashers; instead, turn off the ignition. If fuel is leaking from any vehicle, don't set out road flares. If your car isn't blocking traffic and isn't in danger of being hit by other cars, leave it where it is.

Next, you need to help the critically injured. Apply CPR or other first aid if you have the training for it. Generally, you shouldn't move a seriously-injured person unless they are in immediate danger of being hit by another vehicle or they are in a vehicle that is on fire. Incorrectly moving a person with back or neck injuries can cause paralysis or even death. Call 911 as soon as possible and tell them you need an ambulance.

Even if no one is seriously injured, call 911 if any vehicles are blocking the road or pose a danger to others.

If there are no serious injuries and all of the vehicles can be safely driven, you must still report the accident to the police as soon as possible.

Don't rely on the investigating police officer to record all of the information that might be important in a lawsuit later on. The standard accident report won't necessarily have everything that your insurance company or lawyer might need. Be sure to take pictures of the accident scene, vehicles, other damaged property, parties involved, and witnesses. Record the other drivers' names, contact information, insurance information, and driver's license numbers. Get the names and contact information for any investigating law enforcement officers and witnesses. If you don't have a camera, draw a map of the accident scene showing vehicle locations and record the license plate numbers of every vehicle involved.

REPORTING THE ACCIDENT

IF ANYONE IS KILLED OR INJURED OR IF YOU DAMAGE AN ATTENDED VEHICLE OR ATTENDED PROPERTY:

Failure to report an accident to the police when it results in death or injury to a person or when it results in damage to an attended vehicle or attended property is a crime. If the accident results in death or injury to a person, or the damage to the attended property is more than $1,000, it is a Class 5 felony; if the property damage is less than $1,000, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor (See Virginia Code Section 46.2-894.).

You must provide your name, address, driver's license number, and vehicle registration (license plate) number to the State Police or local law enforcement agency and provide the same information to any struck or injured pedestrian or cyclist, to the driver and other occupants of every vehicle that you collided with, and to the custodian of any damaged property.

IF YOU DAMAGE ONLY AN UNATTENDED VEHICLE OR UNATTENDED PROPERTY:

If you are involved in an accident in which only an unattended vehicle or unattended property (e.g. an empty building, a fire hydrant, a utility pole, etc.) is damaged, you are required to make a reasonable attempt to find the owner or custodian of the vehicle or property and report to him the same information as required above. If you cannot find the owner or custodian, you must leave a note in a conspicuous place at the scene with the required information and report the same information along with the date, time, and place of the accident plus a description of the damage to the State Police or local law enforcement agency in writing within 24 hours. If you have no way of leaving a note at the scene of the accident, you should call the police and notify them of the accident before you leave the scene. That way, you don't risk being charged with a hit-and-run. (See Virginia Code 46.2-896) Failure to comply with these requirements can result in being charged with a misdemeanor. If the damage to the unattended property is more than $250, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor, if it is less than $250, it is a Class 4 misdemeanor. (See Virginia Code Section 46.2-900)

DUTY OF PASSENGERS TO REPORT:

If you are a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident and the driver fails to stop and report as required above, you are required to report the accident to the police. Failure to comply can result in being charged with a felony.
(See Virginia Code Sections 46.2-895 and 46.2-897)

AUTOMOBILE LIABILITY INSURANCE

After reporting the accident to the police, you need to report it to your insurance company in accordance with the requirements of your insurance policy. If a claim is made against you for an accident that you didn't report to your insurance company, the company can terminate your insurance coverage.

There are two types of automobile liability insurance regimes in the United States: Fault and No-Fault. Virginia is a fault state, which means that your liability insurance pays only if the driver of your car was at fault for the accident. In no-fault states, the car owner's insurance company pays the driver and passengers for their injuries no matter who is at fault for the accident (in a way similar to how a person's health insurance pays for that person's medical care no matter who caused the injuries). No-fault states usually limit an injured party's ability to sue the at-fault party. The idea is to reduce the amount of money spent on litigation. No matter which regime you purchase your car insurance under, your insurance company will abide by the rules of the state where the accident actually occurred. For example, if you purchase liability insurance in Virginia and are involved in an accident in a no-fault state, your insurance company will pay your medical bills in accordance with the no-fault state's rules even if you were completely at fault for the accident. If you are covered by an insurance policy issued in a no-fault state and have an accident in Virginia, you will be paid for your injuries only if you were not at fault and the other driver was at fault--and it would be the other driver's insurance company that would pay you.

A strange feature of insurance law is that it's not drivers who are required to have liability insurance; instead it's the car owners who are expected to get it. (Note that drivers can purchase separate driver's insurance, which might make sense for a driver that doesn't own a car but often rents one.) The owner of every vehicle must comply with Virginia's financial responsibility laws. With a few exceptions, this means the owner must have liability insurance on the vehicles he owns. (Note: When a vehicle is leased, it is sometimes the lessee who is required to purchase insurance, rather than the owner.) In Virginia, an owner can also meet the financial responsibility laws by paying an annual $500 uninsured motorist fee in lieu of purchasing insurance. This is usually unwise because it doesn't provide any insurance and makes the driver financially responsible for all damages he causes (and a few days in the ICU can cost more than $100,000). Whereas, if you are at fault for an auto accident and covered by liability insurance, your insurance company will pay the injured parties up to the coverage limits of the insurance. Note that you are still responsible for any injuries and damages beyond the coverage limits.

Currently in Virginia, the minimum amount of liability coverage that a person can buy is a 25/50/20 policy. The numbers represent different types of coverage in thousands of dollars. The first two numbers (the "25/50") are the amounts that the insurance company will pay for bodily injury claims arising from an accident that you are legally liable for. The first number is the per-person amount and the second number is the per-accident amount. If you had such a policy and caused an accident that resulted in injuries to three people in amounts of $15,000, $25,000, and $30,000, your insurance company wouldn't be responsible for paying $5,000 of the third person's injuries because his injuries exceed the $25,000 per-person cap. Even after reducing the third person's injuries covered by your insurance to $25,000, the total injuries would amount to $65,000, which exceeds the $50,000 per-accident cap by 15,000. You would personally owe the $20,000 ($5,000 plus $15,000) not covered by your insurance company. (Note: Your insurance company would try to convince the injured persons to settle their claims for the amount of your insurance coverage and if they were successful, you wouldn't owe the injured parties for the excess amounts.) The third number (the "20") is the total amount the insurance company will pay for all property damage claims in a single accident. If you had such a policy and caused an accident that completely destroyed two cars owned by different drivers and each car was worth $25,000 (for a total of $50,000), your insurance company would pay $20,000 total (split between the two owners) and you would owe the remaining $30,000. The numbers given in the examples are typical of what a person might have to pay in a moderately serious car accident and could go much higher. If you have only the minimal coverage amounts, you probably don't have enough insurance. To learn more about auto insurance in Virginia check Virginia State Corporation Commission Consumer's Auto Insurance Guide.

COLLISION, COMPREHENSIVE, AND MEDICAL PAYMENT INSURANCE

In addition to liability insurance, you might also have collision, comprehensive, or medical payment insurance.

Collision insurance pays you for damages to your vehicle resulting from a collision, whether you were at fault or not and whether it was a single-vehicle collision (say, a collision with a tree) or a collision with another vehicle. Note that, based on the amount of your deductible, you will have to pay the first $250 to $1500 of damages out of your own pocket. The lower the deductible you choose, the higher your premiums will be.

Comprehensive insurance pays you for damages to your vehicle resulting from other causes such as weather (hail, flood, lightning, etc.), arson, theft, or vandalism. Comprehensive also has a deductible.

If you borrow money to buy a car, your lender is almost certain to require you to have collision and comprehensive coverage on the car with the lender named as a beneficiary for as long as you owe money on the car loan. That's because repossessing a wrecked car isn't much use to them if you quit paying off the loan.

Medical payment ("Medpay") insurance compensates you and your passengers for any medical bills (up to the coverage limits) that result from an auto accident while driving or riding in your vehicle no matter who is at fault. It's a bit like insurance in a no-fault state. (If you can't afford health insurance, you might consider getting Medpay insurance.)

If you are in an auto accident and you have collision coverage, your insurance company might ask you whether you wish to make a claim against your own collision coverage or make a claim against the other driver's liability insurance for your property damage. (This assumes that you're not at fault for the accident.) If you make a claim against your own collision coverage, you will have to pay the deductible and your insurance company will gain your right to sue the other driver for the amount that they paid to you. In legal terms this is called "subrogation". The only real advantage to making a claim against your own collision coverage is that you should be paid quickly by your insurance company. This might be important when there is a dispute over liability that might take a long time to resolve and you need money in a hurry to buy another car. Because fault isn't an issue for collision coverage, you and your insurance company only need to agree on the amount of damages before they send you a check. If you make a claim against your collision coverage, your rates can go up due to the collision only if you were at fault.

UNINSURED AND UNDER-INSURED MOTORIST INSURANCE

So what happens if you're in an accident and the other driver is completely at fault but he doesn't have any liability insurance or doesn't have enough insurance to pay for all of your medical and repair bills? If you have liability insurance, then in Virginia, you also have at least some amount of Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Under-Insured Motorist (UIM) insurance coverage. UM coverage pays you when the other driver doesn't have any insurance and UIM pays you when the other driver doesn't have enough. To see how this works, let's look at an example.

Let's say that Patricia has an insurance policy with liability and UM/UIM coverage amounts of 50/100/40 (double the minimum in Virginia). Derek runs a red light at an intersection and hits Patricia's car causing $60,000 in personal injury damages to Patricia and $30,000 in property damage to Patricia's car. If Derek has no insurance at all, Patricia could demand that her own insurance company pay for her injuries and damages under her UM coverage up to the limits of her own coverage, which is capped at $50,000 for personal injuries.

If, instead of having no insurance at all, Derek has liability insurance in coverage amounts of 25/50/20 (the minimum), Derek's insurance would pay Patricia $25,000 for her personal injuries and $20,000 for her property damage. Patricia could sue Derek and get a court judgment against him for the amounts that his insurance didn't pay, but if Derek is poor and unemployed, she might not be able to collect any money from him to pay off the judgment. Instead, she can make a claim against her own UIM coverage for the amounts that Derek's insurance didn't pay; however, she can't receive a total recovery in excess of her own coverage limits. Under her UIM coverage, Patricia would get $25,000 for personal injuries and $10,000 for the property damages (for a total from both Derek's and her own insurance of $50,000 and $30,000. She would still be out $10,000 for her personal injury damages, unless she had MedPay coverage or health insurance to pay for it).

There are a lot of people driving around with only the minimum amount of liability coverage. You should take a look at your complete financial and insurance situation, and decide whether you need more insurance or not.

FAULT

Determining who is at fault for an accident isn't always easy. If you've been in an accident, never assume that you understand the law well enough to make such a determination yourself. Always talk to a lawyer to help you determine whether you were at fault. When the police investigate an accident, they will usually give a traffic ticket to one of the drivers. Don't assume that this automatically makes the person who received the ticket the one who is at fault. Also note that both drivers involved in a two-car collision could be at fault. The laws of each state vary on how such a situation is normally resolved. Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and DC follow the traditional "Contributory Negligence" approach to liability while the rest of the states have switched to one form or another of the "Comparative Negligence" approach.

Under Contributory Negligence, if a person is even only slightly at fault for an accident, he usually can't recover anything from the other party, but under the Comparative Negligence approach his recovery is simply reduced by the amount of his own negligence. For example, if Patricia and Derek are in an auto accident and Patricia is five percent at fault and Derek is ninety-five percent at fault, Patricia will normally lose in a lawsuit against Derek in a Contributory Negligence state. In a Comparative Negligence state, Patricia would be awarded a judgment for ninety-five percent of her damages. Note that there are many exceptions to the general rules and you should always consult an attorney about whether you legally owe or are owed money as a result of an auto accident.

Usually, both parties to the auto accident have insurance and the insurance companies decide between themselves which driver was at fault. Then the insurance company of the at-fault driver usually makes an offer to pay the other driver an amount of money to settle the case. If they can agree on a price, the driver receiving money will have to sign a settlement contract or release agreeing not to sue the other driver.

DAMAGES

The term "damages" refers to both the loss that a person suffers as well as the amount of money that is given as compensation. Auto accident victims typically recover damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, property damage, and lost wages. "Pain and suffering" refers to actual pain and loss of functionality due to physical injury. If you weren't physically harmed yourself, you usually won't get damages for pain and suffering even if your fully-restored, mint-condition, red, 1964 Ford Mustang was accidentally flattened by a steamroller. (You'll certainly be suffering, but it won't be the kind of suffering that you can recover extra money for.)

Sometimes a victim can recover punitive damages as well, but generally, at least in Virginia, punitive damages are given only when the at-fault party did something that was much worse than ordinary negligence. Usually, the at-fault party's behavior must be grossly negligent, reckless, willful, wanton, or malicious for the victim to be able to recover punitive damages. If punitive damages are justified, the court will usually award an amount of money that is a multiple of the actual damages suffered.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU'VE BEEN IN AN AUTO ACCIDENT?

If you're a VT student, make an appointment to see the SLS Attorney.

FELONIES AND MISDEMEANORS

Criminal offenses in Virginia are classified as felonies (more serious crimes) and misdemeanors (less serious crimes). Traffic infractions are not criminal offenses, so they are neither felonies nor misdemeanors; however, as explained in the Traffic section of this website, some more serious traffic infractions are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Both felonies and misdemeanors in Virginia are further divided into classes: six classes of felonies and four classes of misdemeanors. See Title 18.2, Chapter 1, Section 18.2-9 of the Virginia Code online for the different classes of felonies and misdemeanors. Punishments for felonies are listed in Section 18.2-10, and for misdemeanors in Section 18.2-11.

NOT BEING READ YOUR RIGHTS

If you're arrested and the police don't read you your rights, have your constitutional rights been violated? No. There's nothing that requires the police to give you the Miranda warnings when they arrest you. You can be arrested and convicted without ever being told that you have the right to remain silent. Failure of the police to "Mirandize" you upon your arrest simply prevents your subsequent custodial statements from being used against you in court. (Please note that there are exceptions to even this rule.) If you are obviously intoxicated while walking down the street, the police don't need your testimony to get a conviction for public intoxication; they can simply testify to your appearance and demeanor based on what they saw with their own eyes.

DISMISSED CHARGES

If a charge is dismissed, it means the charge is no longer pending against you. You weren't found "guilty" (convicted) and you weren't found "not guilty" (acquitted). Charges are usually dismissed for one of two reasons: Either there was something technically wrong with the charge or arrest that prevented prosecution or the defendant really was guilty but the judge dismissed the charge after allowing the defendant to perform some type of pre-judgment diversion program such as community service. Dismissed charges show up on your criminal record as dismissed. They have not been expunged. If you've had a charge dismissed and a potential employer asks whether you've ever been charged with a crime, you have to say "yes", but if he asks whether you've been convicted, you can say "no".

YOUR CRIMINAL RECORD

People often speak of their "criminal record" as if there is a single record containing the details of every criminal charge brought against them. No such universal record exists. In reality, people can have many different criminal records. Each law enforcement agency keeps records of its criminal investigations, arrests, and other charges. Each court keeps records of the cases brought before it. Prosecutor's offices, jails, and probation officers keep records too. Each state also has its own central criminal information system that aggregates information on arrests, charges, and case dispositions. In Virginia, arrests for felonies and some (but not all) misdemeanors are reported to the state's Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE), which is run by the Virginia State Police. The dispositions of those cases are also reported to the CCRE. (See Virginia Code section 19.2-390.) Generally, when a potential employer or professional licensing board does a "criminal background check" on a person, it's this kind of record that is requested and reviewed. (Note that you can request a copy of your CCRE record for a small fee.) Some of the information reported to the CCRE is further reported to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC). These are just the government records. Much of the information in these records is available to the public and compiled by private background investigation services, which are being used more and more often by companies for screening employment applicants.

EXPUNGEMENT

Expungement is a process by which a former criminal defendant can have access to his criminal record restricted. Each state has its own laws and procedures for expungements. In Virginia, if a charge is expunged, the records related to the charge usually aren't actually destroyed. The records still exist and can be accessed by police and prosecutors if a judge gives them permission; however, the general public can't access the records. Once a charge is expunged, employers (other than the federal government) are forbidden by law from asking about the charge. So if you've had a charge expunged and a potential non-government employer asks whether you've ever been charged with a crime, you're legally entitled to answer "no." Not all charges can be expunged. The federal government isn't bound by state expungement laws and usually asks about expunged charges on employment applications, security clearance applications, and immigration forms.

In Virginia, you can have a charge expunged only in the following situations: (1) you were acquitted of the charge, (2) the prosecutor asked the judge to dismiss the charge as a nol pros (short for nolle prosequi), (3) the Governor pardoned you, or (4) the judge dismissed it for technical reasons unrelated to completion of a pre-judgement alternative sentencing program or completion of a first-time offender program. To get the charge expunged you must petition the circuit court (even if it was a district court case) of the county where you were charged or where you currently reside. There are now expungement petition forms available at the Virginia Courts website but you should consult an attorney to make sure that you are using the correct form and that you have filled it out correctly.

PRE-PAYING MISDEMEANOR TICKETS

A number of minor misdemeanor offenses, such as public intoxication, do not require you to appear in court. Instead, you can log online and prepay them. When you prepay a misdemeanor ticket, you are admitting guilt and you will be officially convicted of the charge. Most prepayable misdemeanor convictions don't go on your state criminal record, but the convictions will appear in court and police records, including the Virginia Courts website. Once the conviction appears on the internet, you can be sure that the private background investigation companies will have a record of it, which means that potential employers can find out about it even if the conviction doesn't go on your state criminal record. For many of these minor offenses, there are alternative pre-judgment sentencing programs that you can opt into. In some cases the community service costs more than just paying the fine, (yes, you have to pay to do community service) but the charge will be dismissed if you complete the program and don't have any more violations during an unsupervised probation period (usually 6-12 months).

FAKE IDs

It is a criminal offense for a person under the age of 21 to use or attempt to use an altered or fake ID or the ID of another person to purchase alcohol. (See Virginia Code Section 4.1-305.) This offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which means that jail time is possible. The minimum punishment is a either $500 fine or 50 hours of community service, and suspension of the offender's driver's license for six to twelve months. Alternatively, the police can bring charges under VA Code Section 46.2-347, which is a Class 3 misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and suspension of the offender's driver's license for one to twelve months.

It is also a criminal offense to obtain, possess, sell, or transfer any document for the purpose of establishing a false status (such as age) or identity for himself or any other person. (18.2-204.1) A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor unless the document is used to purchase a firearm, in which case it is a Class 6 felony. Note that it's a violation to give someone your ID so they can prove a false age.

Making, selling, or advertising for sale any fictitious ID is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Simply possessing one is a Class 2 misdemeanor. (18.2-204.2)

NOTE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

IF YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE VIRGINIA TECH COMMUNITY, AND YOU ARE SEEKING GUIDANCE AND INFORMATION ABOUT THE RECENT EXECUTIVE ORDERS ON U.S. IMMIGRATION, PLEASE SEE VIRGINIA TECH'S WEBSITE

A conviction of a criminal offense can have very serious immigration consequences for someone who is not a U.S. citizen, including deportation. Therefore, if you are not a U.S. citizen and you are charged with a criminal offense, it is imperative that you consult with both an immigration attorney and a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU'VE BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME?

If you're a VT student, make an appointment to see the SLS Attorney.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website may not be current or valid. You must not rely on the information contained here without first speaking to a licensed attorney. Always speak to a licensed attorney regarding any legal issue you may have.