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NOVA Legal Beat: Leaving a Kid in the Car?

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC.

Q. I’ve heard a lot in the news recently about people leaving their children in cars and being prosecuted for it. Is this for real? When I was young I remember being left in the car alone and I turned out fine. Could I really go to jail for doing the same now?

A. Yes, you definitely can find yourself in jail for leaving your child in the car alone, which can be a pretty bad outcome for a few minutes of oversight (not even considering the harm that could occur to the child).

All of us are aware of the types of cases in the news that result in serious injury or death. These offenses are known as felony child neglect in Virginia and are punishable by up to 10 years in jail and up to a $100,000 fine. When there has been no serious injury, but the child’s health was recklessly endangered, you can face a felony conviction and up to five years in jail.

Even in mild cases, parents who leave their kids in the car alone can face prosecution. Leaving a child in a car for five to 10 minutes can result in a misdemeanor conviction for the charge commonly known as “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Misdemeanors carry up to 12 months in jail. This is a catch-all statute that covers all manors of supposedly harmful actions toward a child, including leaving him or her alone for a period of time.

Judges in this area take these offenses very seriously, so if you’re faced with such a charge, it is not something to take lightly.

Q. I recently got busted for underage possession of alcohol. I’m about to head off to college and am worried about this appearing on my record. How can I avoid that?

A. Picking up criminal charges isn’t the ideal way to spend your last summer at home. Underage possession of alcohol is a class 1 misdemeanor and can be a big inconvenience for those looking to keep their records clean. While many may be willing to chalk up a conviction to youthful indiscretion, others will not be able to see past having any criminal record. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the sting of a conviction.

If you have no prior offenses, you can qualify for the first offender status. That would allow the court to withhold any finding of guilt conditioned upon completion of an education or treatment program and complying with a required license suspension of at least 6 months. Once you complete those terms and any others ordered, the charges would be dismissed.

The charge normally carries with it a mandatory fine or community service along with the license suspension. Sometimes alternative solutions can be worked out based on the circumstances and the view of the Commonwealth towards your case. The consequences for an underage alcohol conviction can be serious and quite inconvenient. Don’t be caught unprepared and without adequate representation.

Mathew B. Tully is the founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. Located in Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C., Tully Rinckey PLLC’s attorneys practice criminal defense, matrimonial and family law, federal employment law, and military law. To speak with an attorney, call 703-525-4700 or to learn more

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