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Leesburg Criminal Law Blog

Binge drinking and drunk driving rates high among veterans

Veterans residing in Virginia who have received a DUI charge should be aware they are not alone. The American Addiction Centers released a study that showed drunk driving has spiked among the U.S. veteran population. Binge drinking was also found to be at an all-time high. The study concluded that post-traumatic stress disorder was a significant contributor to hazardous alcohol use.

Researchers found that average veteran rates of binge drinking have gone up nearly 2 percent between 2013 and 2017. Among female veterans, that number was closer to 3 percent. The percentage of veterans who admitted to drunk driving has increased by nearly 1 percent in the same time period. Most of the veterans who drank and drive were males. However, Virginia was one of the states with the lowest rates of drunk driving among veterans.

Man arrested after driving onto Virginia State Capitol grounds

A 29-year-old man was arrested on Nov. 26 after driving his car onto the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond and then attempting to flee the scene on foot. He was allegedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time the incident occurred.

According to media reports, the defendant sped through the main gate of the Capitol grounds at approximately 3 p.m. As he drove toward the Executive Mansion, an officer was forced to jump out of the way to avoid being struck. He continued driving until he reached the steps in front of the Capitol Building. He then exited his vehicle and ran up a hill toward Bank Street. The man was then quickly apprehended.

The First Step Act and sentencing reform

Criminal justice issues and sentencing reform have garnered a great deal of attention in Virginia and across the country. An unlikely coalition is supporting one bill in Congress to address some of the problems that have tainted the system, the First Step Act. The bill has bipartisan support and is backed by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union and President Trump. Despite presenting only a modest reform agenda that fails to address many of the key concerns raised by justice reform advocates, opponents of the bill have continued to say that its adoption presents a threat to safety.

The First Step Act would reform some aspects of federal sentencing, including potentially shortening the sentences of some people who have served lengthy prison terms for drug convictions. While a previous bill reformed sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine charges years ago, people remain jailed under sentences imposed before the reform. This bill would allow those people to petition for their release under a retroactive application of the sentencing reform.

How the First Step Act could affect defendants

Criminal justice reform is a major concern to many people in Virginia, especially those dealing with drug convictions. After years of criticism about the ways disadvantaged groups are treated, the First Step Act is being considered in Congress. The bill is backed by an unusual alliance of supporters, including President Donald Trump and some law enforcement groups as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and other longtime justice reform advocates.

The bill would provide an immediate effect for nearly 2,600 federal prisoners who were convicted of offenses related to crack cocaine before 2010. In that year, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to address the massive disparity in sentencing between people charged with crack or powder cocaine offenses. This disparity disproportionately affected African American defendants and sparked years of criticism. However, the reform did not apply retroactively. If the First Step Act becomes law, people serving time for those earlier federal crack convictions could petition a judge for release. However, prosecutors could also weigh in on the petition.

Virginia woman sentenced to 10 years in prison in overdose case

A Virginia Beach woman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in a man's overdose death in 2016. Earlier this year, she pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, possession with intent to distribute a schedule I or II class drug and violating conditions of release.

According to authorities, most of the charges stem from a Dec. 12, 2016, incident that led to the death of a man. The man apparently came to the defendant's Virginia Beach home to use cocaine. Once there, he chose to also inject heroin from a syringe, but he wasn't able to inject it himself. The defendant inserted the syringe needle into a vein for him and warned him that the drug was very strong and not to inject the entire amount. However, he proceeded to inject the entire amount and quickly fell unconscious.

Virginia man charged with DUI after pursuit

A 25-year-old Virginia man is facing a raft of charges including drunk driving after allegedly attempting to flee the scene of a traffic stop during the early morning hours of Nov. 3. Media accounts indicate that the Midland resident's secured bond has been set at $3,000 and he is being held at the Rappahannock Regional Jail.

A Stafford County Sheriff's Office deputy says that the sequence of events began when he signaled a vehicle to pull over for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The deputy claims that he had previously observed the vehicle repeatedly speeding up and slowing down. Instead of pulling over, the deputy claims that the vehicle left the scene at a high rate of speed.

Deadly drunk driving crash sends woman to prison for 16 years

A 25-year-old woman who had once appeared on a reality show produced by Lifetime is headed to prison after she entered guilty pleas for manslaughter, driving the wrong way and disobeying highway signage. A judge in a Virginia court sentenced her to 16 years because she had caused a fatal accident while intoxicated.

The accident happened last November on Interstate 264. Prosecutors reported that her blood alcohol content at the time measured between 0.17 and 0.19. The state police described the crash as a head-on collision caused by driving on the wrong side of the interstate.

NTSB wants .08 percent drunk driving limit reduced to .05

Accidents caused by intoxicated drivers kill 29 people every day in Virginia and around the country, and experts say that these crashes cost the United States economy about $44 billion each year. Efforts to curb drunk driving include powerful public information campaigns and stricter DUI penalties, but a growing number of road safety advocates are calling for the nationwide .08 percent blood alcohol concentration threshold for intoxication to be reduced to .05 percent. This would bring the United States into line with other developed countries and save about 1,800 lives each year according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Utah is the only state so far to have lowered its drunk driving BAC threshold to .05 percent. The state's new DUI law was opposed by business groups representing the tourism and hospitality sectors as well as civil rights activists who claimed that the legislation criminalized generally safe behavior. However, some road safety groups feel that Utah's lawmakers did not go far enough and want allowable BAC levels to be reduced to zero. These arguments are supported by data revealing that motorists with BACs between .05 percent and .079 percent crash seven times as often as completely sober drivers.

Penalties for felony convictions in Virginia

Many serious crimes in Virginia are classified as felonies. These can include a number of drug charges, such as those linked to sales or manufacturing, as well as manslaughter or murder, sex charges, serious theft allegations, white-collar crimes and weapons charges. A felony conviction not only comes with prison time, but it can also be a serious bar to further education, employment or even housing. In Virginia, there are six classes of felonies, and each has a specified penalty associated with the crime.

Class 1 felonies are the most serious; they can carry the death penalty or life imprisonment as well as a fine of up to $100,000. On the other hand, Class 2 felonies carry a prison term of 20 years to life as well as a fine of $100,000 or less. Class 3 felony convictions lead to five to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of up to $100,000.

Understanding constructive possession

If you face Virginia drug charges, you could also face a substantial prison sentence and/or fine if the prosecutor convicts you of the crime with which you are charged. Whatever the drug crime that law enforcement officers allege you committed, however, in order to convict you of it, the prosecutor must first prove that the drugs in question actually belonged to you.

(S)he can attempt to prove this by one of two ways: that you actually owned the drugs or that you constructively owned them. As its name implies, actual possession requires direct proof that you personally owned the drugs. For instance, the prosecutor can prove actual possession if the officers who arrested you testify that they recovered the drugs from your jacket pocket at the time of your arrest and the judge or jury believes their testimony.

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