29 July 2014

Punishing You Now and in the Hereafter: Capital +

I knew punishments were steeper in the past, but this is a new one to me:
Any person who shall hereafter be guilty of stealing, or selling, any free person as a slave, knowing the person so sold to be free, and shall be thereof lawfully convicted, the person so convicted, shall suffer death without benefit of clergy.
That's a Virginia statute from 1792 and it puts our modern day capital punishment to shame. We're going to kill you and not give you an opportunity to redeem your soul.

On the other hand, it could just be a way of saying you can't get out of a death sentence by being literate.

23 July 2014


Ummm . . . Okay, I think I'll probably miss this one.

16 July 2014

Virginia Theft Project: Stealing Critters

Generally, in order to convict someone of a grand larceny (felony theft) either the value of the item must be shown to be at least $200 or there must have been two prior larceny convictions.  However, there are exceptions and one of the more interesting is the animal exception.
§ 18.2-97. Larceny of certain animals and poultry.
 Any person who shall be guilty of the larceny of a dog, horse, pony, mule, cow, steer, bull or calf shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony [10 year max]; and any person who shall be guilty of the larceny of any poultry of the value of $5 dollars or more, but of the value of less than $200, or of a sheep, lamb, swine, or goat, of the value of less than $200, shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony [5 year max].
As you might imagine, the courts in Virginia aren't exactly choked with people charged under this section. In fact, most of the animals covered by the class 5 felony would probably also be worth more than $200 and thus be charged under the felony by value statute  [20 year max]. However, this is not true for dogs. Consequently, when you see someone charged under this statute it is almost always because they have taken someone else's dog.

You're thinking to yourself, "Surely, people don't get charged under this statute for stealing Spot?" I'm here to tell you they do. It's not the most common charge in the world, but I've seen 4 or 5 people in court facing this charge and about the same number with a conviction for it on their record.

To be fair, there are valid policy reasons for felonizing dog theft in certain circumstances. If the dog is a tool or a profit center its inclusion in this statute makes sense. In other words hunting dogs, herding dogs, handicap assistance dogs, and Miriam Sherringham Terrentia Regina (a champion purebred shih tzu whose puppies sell for at least $1,000) all fit under the purpose of this statute. Rover, while he fits under the language of this statute, does not fit under its purpose. So, of course, the cases we see in court are almost all because someone stole Rover.

11 July 2014

Top Five New Virginia Criminal Laws

It's that time of year again. The Virginia General Assembly has gifted us with a new set of laws and changes in laws. This year they didn't change as much as they usually do (maybe they were preoccupied with some other issue), but there were some important changes. Here are the top five I spotted (in no particular order).

(A) § 18.2-386.2 - Revenge Porn Statute - If someone maliciously, with intent to harass, publishes nude or semi-nude pictures or video of another without their permission it is a class 1 misdemeanor.

COMMENT: This can be applied to anyone, but the best use that I see for this is for dealing with minors. There seem to be lots of girls sending pics of themselves to the high school love of their lives. The boy then sends the pics to all his buddies or puts it up online. Then the girl's parents want the 16 year old boy castrated and buried under the prison. Before the passage of this statute the only thing we could charge was the felony distribution of child porn. This wasn't a good fit to the situation, would tar the minor with a sexual felony that would follow him for life, and if he was guilty so was the girl. The new statute is a far better fit for the situation.

(B) §§ 17.1-275.12, 18.2-67.5:1, 18.2-346, 18.2-348, 18.2-356, 18.2-359, 18.2-361, 18.2-368, 18.2-370, 18.2-370.1, 18.2-371, and 18.2-374.3 – Various sexual crimes with minors amended so they add to sexual intercourse the acts of “anal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, or anilingus.”

COMMENT: Previously, the first thing that a defense attorney went to was the Bill Clinton defense: "Yeahh, he did XXX, but it wasn't sex."

(C) No more zero tolerance policies at schools for firearms (§ 22.1-277.07 / two bills) and no more zero tolerance for drugs (§ 22.1-277.08 / three bills).

COMMENT: Yes, I know this isn't technically a criminal statute, but it is bound to have collateral affects.

(D) §§ 54.1-3401, 54.1-3443, & 54.1-3456 – After 30 days notice and a hearing, the Department of Forensic Science can declare a substance a schedule I or II drug as a controlled substance analog for 18 months. Thereafter, if the General Assembly has not acted, the substance is descheduled. A controlled substance analog is prosecuted as a schedule I or II drug.

COMMENT: This is a reaction to the synthetic drug problem. The formulas keep changing and a once yearly change of which chemicals were illegal fell hopelessly behind. NOTE that all synthetics are now schedule I, including those which were previously covered by the now defunct cannabinoid statute.

(E) New Moped Laws

§§ 46.2-600, 46.2-613, & 46.2-715 - Moped must have have title, registration and rear license plate.

§ 46.2-914 - Moped driver must have a government issued photo ID (not driver's license).

§ 46.2-915.2 - Moped driver and passenger must wear helmet or goggles or the moped must have a windshield.

COMMENT: Yes, I know that these laws were actually put in place last year, but law enforcement was forbidden (by the bill) from enforcing the statutes until this year.