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Leesburg Criminal Law Blog

Marijuana's 4/20 holiday linked to roadway fatalities

Many people in Virginia and across the United States are well aware of the dangers of drunk driving and the impact that alcohol can have on someone's ability to operate a car successfully. The effect of alcohol on driving is reflected in the well-known uptick in fatal car accidents that happens every year on Super Bowl Sunday and New Year's Eve, two occasions known for alcohol consumption and partying. As cannabis is legalized for medical and recreational use in a growing number of states across the country, there has also been an increase in attention on driving while under the influence of pot. It has been noted that April 20 each year - the marijuana holiday often called 4/20 - has a slight increase in fatal accidents on an ongoing basis.

In a study on the subject, researchers counted the number of deadly car accidents each year on April 20 from 1992 to 2016. The study then compared these numbers with dates one week prior and one week after that date. The data did not contain information on the potential involvement of marijuana in the crashes or whether the drivers were under the influence of any substance.

DUIs in Virginia

Virginia motorists who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs are subject to some to the strictest DUI laws in the country. If they are convicted of a DUI charge, they risk being incarcerated and assessed court fines. A conviction can also negatively affect how much they have to pay for their vehicle insurance and whether they can obtain a security clearance.

According the Virginia Code Section 18.2-266, it is illegal to drive while intoxicated. The commonwealth of Virginia determines whether someone is drunk driving by assessing their blood alcohol concentration. The amount of alcohol in a person's blood is typically determined by having a chemical analysis conducted on their breath. The blood alcohol concentration limit in Virginia is 0.08.

Man faces multiple charges in Virginia

A 41-year-old man was indicted on six charges by a U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He was originally taken into custody along with eight other people in Ocean City in 2016. The charges include conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, evidence tampering and witness tampering. He also faces charges related to the intent to distribute fentanyl that caused serious bodily injury and caused death to another person.

The investigation was carried out in part by the I-81 Human Trafficking Task Force. This is a coalition of local and federal law enforcement agencies designed to intervene in human trafficking cases. In addition to the I-81 HTTF, the DEA and Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force were involved in the sting that took the man and others into custody.

Man charged with DUI after hitting 3 pedestrians

A 35-year-old man is facing multiple charges after he allegedly struck three pedestrians while driving drunk. The incident occurred on Jan. 21 in southwest Roanoke, Virginia.

According to authorities, officers were called to the scene of a hit-and-run accident on the 1900 block of Memorial Avenue at approximately 10:45 p.m. They were told that three male victims, ages 31, 33 and 35, had been hit by a white sedan as they walked on the sidewalk. The car then drove south on Winborne Avenue. Shortly afterward, authorities received reports that a white car collided with a parked vehicle on the 1700 block of Windsor Avenue. Responding officers said that the defendant attempted to exit his car and flee on foot, but he fell down and was apprehended.

Lowered drunk driving threshold supported by panel

Virginia motorists who are concerned about drunk driving may be interested to know that a report was commissioned by the government to address how to prevent the 10,000 annual deaths that result from such behavior. The panel, which consisted of members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, offered multiple suggestions, including making the blood-alcohol concentration threshold significantly lower, from .08 to .05.

There would be multiple factors that would affect how much alcohol it would take to reach the .05 limit. They include whether the individual had eaten recently and the individual's weight and height. According to the report, there are studies that indicate that the majority of women who weigh in excess of 120 pounds would have to consume two drinks to reach .05. Men who weigh about 160 pounds would also be at the threshold after two drinks, while those who are over 180 pounds would have to consume three drinks.

Reality star Bam Margera charged with DUI

Virginia residents familiar with Bam Margera likely know him best for his leading roles in the hit MTV show 'Jackass" and its spinoff series 'Viva La Bam," but the reality television star made headlines that he may regret on Jan. 8 when he charged with drunk driving in California. Reports indicate that officers with the California Highway Patrol ordered the television star to pull over in Los Angeles County after observing him using a cellphone while behind the wheel at about 8:00 a.m.

Officers say that they were in the process of citing another driver when they noticed Margera using his cellphone. According to media accounts, the officers determined that the actor may have been impaired after detecting the odor of alcohol on the his breath. Margera was taken into custody and charged with drunk driving after allegedly performing poorly during a series of standardized field sobriety tests and providing a breath sample that revealed his blood alcohol level to be .08 percent or higher.

How evidence may be suppressed in a case

If a Virginia resident is charged with a crime, there must be enough evidence to convict on that charge. If there are any doubts as to the legality of evidence collected, it may be suppressed. It is important to note that evidence used in a case must be relevant and collected properly. Otherwise, a judge may grant a defendant's motion to have it suppressed.

When collecting evidence, authorities must respect a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. For example, the police don't have the right to search someone's home without probable cause to do so. Any evidence found during an illegal search may be considered invalid at trial. In some cases, evidence gathered indirectly because of an illegal search may also be disallowed during a trial. This is known as the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine.

Understanding plea bargains and how the process works

Approximately 90 percent of all criminal cases in the United States involve some type of plea bargain arrangements or negotiations. Essentially, a plea bargain is an agreement in which the defendant seeks a lesser charge or sentence. There are different types of plea bargains and certain conditions that apply to legal arrangements of this nature in Virginia.

Plea bargains may be part of a criminal defense strategy between the defendant's attorney and the prosecutor. Such agreements are sometimes referred to as a mutual acknowledgement of the strengths and weaknesses of a case. Prosecutors with heavy caseloads often welcome reasonable plea bargains, which may help avoid the costs and time involved with a trial.

Felonies versus misdemeanors

Like the rest of the United States, the justice system in Virginia has different categories for criminal offenses. Whether a crime is a misdemeanor or felony typically depends on the severity of the offense. There is also a stark difference in the type of incarceration sentence an individual may receive if convicted.

Some of the least serious offenses are infractions. A person accused of committing an infraction usually does not have to spend very much time in court or jail. Common infractions may include jaywalking, minor drug possession offenses or traffic tickets. If an infraction is not paid or addressed, the offender will be at risk for higher fines and other penalties.

Country star facing drug possession and DUI charges

Country music fans in Virginia and around the country may have learned about Michael Ray when his ballad 'Kiss You in the Morning" reached the top of the Billboard Country Airplay chart in 2015. The 29-year-old singer is seen as a rising star, but his reputation suffered a blow during the early morning hours of Dec. 20 when he was taken into custody by police in his home state of Florida on drug possession and drunk driving charges.

Ray's troubles began when his car collided with the rear of another vehicle as the star waited in line at a fast-food drive-thru window at approximately 3:30 a.m. Ray told the responding police officers that his foot had slipped off the brake pedal. However, the officers were more interested in Ray's demeanor, and they ordered him to submit to a series of field sobriety tests after allegedly noticing that his speech was slurred and his breath smelled of alcohol.

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