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3 big changes to Virginia criminal law

Several new laws went into effect in Virginia as of July 1, 2022. Three notable examples include the use of facial recognition to aid in criminal investigations, increased penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and the recognition of the sending of certain intimate photos as a trespass.

#1: Police are allowed to use facial recognition equipment

In 2021 Virginia lawmakers passed a law that banned the use of facial recognition technology. Less than a year after its passage, lawmakers approved a bill that basically removes the ban. Instead of the ban, the state now allows for the use of this technology in certain situations. One example: when police have reasonable suspicion that the individual in question committed a crime — a relatively broad scenario.

The new law does prohibit the use of the technology for surveillance or general monitoring. We will provide updates on the application of this new law as examples become available.

#2: Marijuana is legal … sometimes

In 2021, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation to legalize marijuana. The law essentially allowed for those 21 or older to possess small amounts of marijuana. Unfortunately, a recent change is seen by advocates for the legalization of marijuana as a step backwards.

The previous law allowed for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Those who were in possession of more could face a civil penalty with a fine of about $25. Lawmakers recently changed this. The new law, effective as of July 1, 2022, makes it a criminal misdemeanor to possess over 4 ounces but less than 1 pound of marijuana in public.

This change translates to a steep increase in the severity of penalties. A violation can now result in a Class 3 misdemeanor. This means the accused can face up to a $500 fine and a criminal record. A second offense can lead to Class 2 misdemeanor charges. This comes with even more harsh penalties that can include the possibility of up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Those with more than a pound could face felony charges and up to 1 year’s imprisonment as well as a $250,000 fine.

It is important to point out that the law applies to possession of “marijuana” which extends to include edibles.

This new law will likely cause confusion amongst Virginians, as the state had recently took actions towards marijuana legalization. This confusion could result in unintentional violations of the law. Unfortunately, with these types of crime, intent is generally not a factor that affects whether the police can move forward with criminal charges.

#3: Sending certain pictures is now illegal

It is now possible to fine an adult who texts an “intimate image” to another adult without their permission. The law defines an intimate image as a photo, film, or other visual of a naked adult.

As of July 1, 2022, this action can qualify as a trespass. The alleged offender can face up to $500 in fines or more if the individual who receives the image suffers actual damages greater than that amount.

These laws are constantly evolving. Anyone facing allegations of a criminal offense is wise to take the matter seriously and contact an attorney to discuss their options.