Marijuana possession will no longer result in an automatic driver's license suspension in Virginia.
Virginia lawmakers passed two bills recently that will make it easier for Virginians to hold onto their driving licenses if they have been convicted of marijuana possession or have fallen behind on paying a court debt, according to the Daily Press. The two bills, which are currently awaiting the governor's signature, are designed to reduce the large number of people in the state who are currently driving on a suspended license. Supporters of the new measures say depriving people of their licenses for relatively minor offenses was overly harsh and simply led to many people ignoring the law.
Marijuana possession and license suspensions
Currently, anybody who is convicted of marijuana possession in Virginia faces an automatic license suspension of six months. As WAMU 88.5 reports, that sentence was recently repealed by state lawmakers and replaced with a sentence of up to 100 hours of community service. It is important to note, however, that judges are still free to impose a license suspension on a person convicted of marijuana possession, but the suspension is no longer automatic. Also, people who are caught with marijuana in a moving vehicle still face an automatic license suspension.
Critics had argued that suspending peoples' licenses for what is increasingly being seen as a minor offense was unfair. They pointed out that a license suspension meant that people had to either choose between obeying the law or continuing with their daily errands, such as going to work and picking up their children from school, which could land them in further legal trouble.
Court debts and license suspensions
Marijuana possession isn't the only controversial offense that can lead to a license suspension. If people owe a debt to the court and miss a payment they could also lose their license. That punishment has also been described as grossly unfair since a suspended license means many people can no longer drive to their jobs in order to earn the money they need to get themselves out of debt. Currently, 650,000 Virginians have a suspended driving license because of court debts.
State lawmakers also attempted to address this problem with a series of bills that at least require judges to take a person's financial situation into account when devising a payment plan for court debts. If the person misses a payment, he or she will still have their license suspended, but the court must at least consider the defendant's request for a new payment plan.
Criminal defense law
As the above article shows, laws in Virginia can be tough for drivers. Anybody who is facing a criminal charge or traffic violation should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help clients fight for their rights, including by helping them keep their driver's license and maintain their freedom.