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Richmond Attorneys Answer Frequently Asked Questions about Virginia Criminal Law, DUI, Family Law and Personal Injury

Whether you’ve just been arrested, injured in a car accident or served with divorce papers, you probably know you need legal help, but you may be unsure about where to turn for answers. See below for answers to frequently asked questions about Virginia criminal law, DUI, family law and personal injury, and contact Bender Law Group in Richmond at 804-648-8000 for immediate assistance.

Q. When do I need a lawyer?

A. At the Bender Law Group, it is easy to find out when you need representation. Contact our office at no cost if you have any questions and would like to discuss the issues in your case. Certainly, anyone charged with a felony, misdemeanors that could result in jail time, and some traffic violations or alcohol offenses, should have legal representation. An experienced defense lawyer can help.

Q. What do I do if the police want consent to search me, my car or my home?

A. Your constitutional rights include the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Do not consent to any search without your lawyers’ advice.

Specifically, in most situations, please note that police are not allowed to conduct a search without a valid search warrant or probable cause to believe they will find evidence of criminal activity. There are, however, many exceptions to the warrant requirement. For instance, police can seize anything that is in plain view, and they may also conduct a limited search incident to a lawful arrest. Another time police have the right to search without a warrant is when you give them that right. Police may ask your permission to conduct a search, and you may think it is in your interest to cooperate, but it rarely is. If the police want your consent to search, they probably don’t have probable cause. You are within your rights to refuse consent.

The law is especially tricky when it comes to searching automobiles. If the police tell you to get out of the car and that they are going to conduct a search, don’t try to obstruct or resist them, but don’t give them permission if they ask for it. If a search is conducted in violation of your constitutional rights, your lawyer will work to get the evidence suppressed and have the charges against you dropped.

Remember, be polite in dealing with the police, but insist on contacting your lawyer before making decisions. Furthermore, insist on speaking to an attorney before speaking to the police.

Q. What do I do if the police get a search warrant?

A. Search warrants allow the police to search a specified area or location for particular items. With a search warrant in hand, the police will no longer need your consent to search. It is best to say nothing unless ORDERED to do so. Exercise your right to remain silent. Tell the police that you need to contact your attorney before making any statements. Even if ordered, do not make any statements that establish ownership or possession of items found in the search.

Q. What if I have been charged with underage possession of alcohol, marijuana or another illegal drug? Is there a way to get the charges dismissed to keep my record clean?

A. Yes. Your lawyer can take advantage of legal routes to keep these convictions off your record. Each court is a little different in applying these laws. Not only can a conviction for underage possession of alcohol or marijuana result in legal proceedings, but it can have a negative impact on your collegiate record or career. The Bender Law Group has attorneys that routinely represent students from local high schools, the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. Consult with a defense lawyer to find out about your specific case.

Q. What do I do if I get a reckless driving charge?

A. Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor which can carry up to 12 months in jail, up to a $2,500 dollar fine, and loss of license for up to 6 months. It also carries 6 points on your DMV record. An experienced defense lawyer can tell you if you are facing one of the more serious penalties and if it is possible to have your charges reduced to something less serious or dismissed.

Q. I am from another state and received a ticket in Virginia. Will that hurt me in the state that I am licensed in?

A. Any ticket with points can negatively impact your insurance premiums. Also, many states, like North Carolina, will translate what happens in Virginia to their own DMV records. In particular, if convicted of going 15 mph above the speed limit, a simple speeding ticket in Virginia, will likely be reported to the North Carolina DMV which will suspended your privileges to drive for 30 days. A reckless ticket here can also result in a license suspension there. An experienced defense lawyer can help.

Q. I live out of state. Do I have to show up for court in Virginia for a traffic ticket?

A. It depends. Some charges require your appearance, some cases can be handled by a lawyer in your absence, and others can be prepaid. Consult a defense lawyer to determine which route is appropriate for you.

Q. What do I do if I am stopped for a DUI? (This should be placed right before “can I refuse to take the blood test”)

A. Do not admit to drinking. You have no legal obligation to take any field sobriety tests, often called FSTs, or the preliminary or portable breath test (the alcosensor or PBT). Generally speaking, unless you know for sure you are under the legal limit, it’s not a good idea to take the PBT which is usually offered in the field. The police may arrest you and take you for the Breathalyzer or blood test. When you drive on the public streets, you implicitly consent to taking the Breathalyzer or blood test, but not the PBT. Refusal of the Breathalyzer or blood test can cause you to be charged with a different charge than DUI, but be advised that there are additional penalties for having a Blood Alcohol Content “BAC” of .15 or above. You will serve jail time at that alcohol level. Consider this when deciding whether to take the Breathalyzer.

If you have had a previous DUI or are in a situation where any DUI conviction would be particularly devastating, you should speak with an experienced defense lawyer ahead of time to discuss the law that might apply to you if or when you are stopped.

Q. Can I refuse to take a breath test?

A. By getting your license to drive, you have given your implied consent to submit to a breath test when required by the Virginia police. Refusing to test carries a penalty of a one-year suspension of your license, or three years if you have previously refused a test (a second refusal is also a Class 1 misdemeanor). You will not be able to get a restricted license during the period of your suspension, and the fact of your refusal can be used against you in your DUI case. If you are later convicted of DUI, that driver’s license suspension will get stacked on top of your suspension for refusing the test, suspending your driving privileges for an extra long time.

Keep in mind that this law only applies to a chemical test of your breath or blood. Police officers will often try to get you to take a preliminary breath test or alcohol screen at the roadside. This is similar to asking you to perform field sobriety tests. The police are trying to develop probable cause to arrest you and force you to take a chemical blood or breath test. You are within your rights to refuse field sobriety tests or preliminary alcohol screens.

Q. How is property divided in a divorce?

A. Courts divide the marital property, which is basically all assets (and debts) acquired by either spouse during marriage up to the point of separation, except for gifts or inheritances given just to one spouse and kept separate. Virginia courts make an “equitable distribution” of the marital property, which means the division must be fair, but not necessarily equal. Many factors go into determining when an unequal distribution may still be equitable. Courts will generally approve a property settlement agreement drafted by the spouses. Otherwise, the judge will divide the marital property following a hearing and based on the evidence provided by the parties. Your attorney will fight to achieve a fair distribution and help you keep property that is most important to you.

Q. Can I get punitive damages against the negligent driver who hit me?

A. Punitive damages are reserved for cases where the defendant exhibited willful or wanton conduct or recklessness with a conscious disregard for the safety of others. Most negligent conduct does not rise to the level of egregious behavior that would warrant punitive damages. When punitive damages are available, a higher standard is required to prove punitive damages than ordinary negligence. The attorneys at Bender Law Group include skilled courtroom litigators who are prepared to seek punitive damages whenever applicable. Virginia law allows punitive damage awards up to $350,000 in appropriate cases.

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