Major changes are coming to Virginia and the way people involved in the criminal justice system may be prosecuted. For the first time in the nearly four decades that the criminal defense attorneys at The Gordon Law Firm have been practicing law, these changes are helpful to our clients.
Spurred by a change in leadership in the House of Delegates and a prevailing social changes, Virginia Democrats and some Republicans have embarked on an ambitious agenda designed to inject more fairness into the criminal justice process. One of these major changes is House Bill 5058. This legislation is now before the Governor and is expected to be signed into law at any moment.
House Bill 5058 will restrict the ability of a police officer to detain people for minor offenses. It will reclassify into secondary offenses a number of minor, mostly traffic, offenses. Officers are only permitted to stop people for what are considered primary offenses. By reclassifying a number of offenses as secondary infractions, police will have to work harder to develop objective factual justification to stop motorists. In the past, police officers have used these minor offenses to justify stopping and detaining people. Police will then use that justification to look for evidence of other crimes.
Specifically, House Bill 5058 will make the following changes:
- It will prevent police from stopping someone who operates a motorcycle, moped, motorized skateboard or scooter that is not equipped with a muffler and exhaust system.
- It prevents stops, searches, and seizures based upon the plain smell of marijuana. This not only applies to cars, but to stops of people on the street or searches of places or things.
- It prevents stops of vehicles based upon suspected learners permit violations (too many people in the car, or no one over 21 in the vehicle, etc.).
- It prevents stops of a vehicle due to an expired registration sticker. However, if it is more than four months expired, they can stop you.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle because someone is smoking in the car with a minor in the car.
- It prevents stopping a pedestrian solely for jaywalking or for walking out in between cars.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for defective equipment.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for not having working rear license plate lights.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for not having working brake lights.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for not having a supplemental high mount stop light (the one in the rear window of the car).
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for not having your headlights on.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for a loud or defective exhaust.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for window tint.
- It prevents stopping a vehicle for having an object dangling from the rear-view mirror (obstructing the windshield).
- It prevents stopping a vehicle because someone does not have a seat belt on.
Because police officers will soon be unable to stop people based on these reasons, officers will have to work harder to develop the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion to stop and detain people. This is not impossible for them. All the police need to do is wait for you to speed a little or roll past a stop sign and a Virginia police officer can stop you. If you are stopped for a primary offense, then the police can write you a ticket for any secondary offenses you may have committed.
They can also use that legal justification to perform the types of searches and investigations these changes were designed to limit. These changes in the law will make an impact on cases currently pending where the police have justified their stops based upon these statutory violations. In the long run, however, smart police officers will find ways to work around them.
In conclusion, if you believe that you have a case that may be covered by one of these changes in the law, please contact the criminal defense lawyers at The Gordon Law Firm to discuss your rights and remedies. Call now at 703.218.8416.
We have been practicing nearly law for nearly four decades and we would like to put our expertise to work for you. We are currently accepting all manner of criminal and traffic cases in Fairfax County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Fairfax, the Town of Vienna, and the Town of Herndon.