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Common Legal Issues

 The following information addresses some of the common issues students have sought help from Student Legal Services about. The information is only an overview, and while we strive to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date, it should not be taken as legal advice. Please see our disclaimer. For more information, you are welcome to come by the SLS office to speak with a volunteer.

Underage possession, consumption, or purchase of alcohol

Public intoxication

Reckless Driving

Violations of the college's Student Code of Conduct

Landlord refuses to make repairs


Underage Possession, Consumption or Purchase of Alcohol

In Virginia, it is illegal for a person under the age of 21 to posess, consume, or purchase alcohol pursuant to Virginia Code § 4.1-305. A person believed to have violated the section may be prosecuted either in the county or city in which the alcohol was possessed or consumed, or in the county or city in which the person exhibits evidence of physical indicia of consumption of alcohol. It is a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

A Class 1 Misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. If you are found guilty and convicted of underage possession of alcohol, there is a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service as a condition of probation supervision. If you are age 18 or older, your license will be suspended for at least six months but not more than a year. During the period of license suspension, the court may require you to be monitored by an alcohol safety action program, or supervised by a local community-based probation services agency. There is a provision for a restricted license to be able to drive to work and other places as allowed.

If you have not been convicted of underage consumption, purchase, or posession of alcohol in Virginia or any other state, the judge may, at his or her discretion, place you on first offender status. If placed on first offender status, you will be required to enter a treatment or education program or both, if available, that in the opinion of the court best suits the needs of the accused. Your license may be suspended.

If you violate one of the conditions, the court may find you guilty and proceed as otherwise provided. However, upon fulfillment of the conditions, the court will dismiss the proceedings without an adjudication of guilt. (A discharge and dismissal is treated as a conviction for the purpose of applying this section in any subsequent proceedings.)

The only way for the conviction not to show up on your record would be if you are found not guilty or if you are given first offender status.


Public Intoxication

Public intoxication is illegal under Virginia Code § 18.2-388, which reads in part ““If any person profanely curses or swears or is intoxicated in public, whether such intoxication results from alcohol, narcotic drug or other intoxicant or drug of whatever nature, he shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.” Under § 18.2-11, a Class 4 misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of not more than $250.


Reckless Driving

There are more than a dozen statutes dealing with reckless driving. Several of the most common are discussed here. First, the general reckless driving statute makes it a crime to drive “at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person” (VA Code § 46.2-852). You can be found guilty of that charge irrespective of the maximum speed permitted by law on the road on which you were driving. Another common reckless driving charge is for either exceeding the posted speed limit by twenty mph or greater or by driving in excess of 80 mph, regardless of the maximum speed limit. (VA Code § 46.2-862). Passing a stopped school bus, driving with your view obstructed, failing to yield right-of-way, driving too fast for highway traffic conditions, and failing to give proper signals are among the actions that are punishable as reckless driving under Virginia law.

Reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor (VA Code § 46.2-868). A class 1 misdemanor is punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. (VA Code § 18.1-11). Also, if you are found guilty of a reckless driving the court may suspend your license for between 10 days and six months. A nonresident may be prohibited from driving in the commonwealth of Virginia for the same period of time. (VA Code § 46.2-392). The court has the discretion to allow a person to be issued a restricted permit during the period of suspension to allow driving for certain purposes, such as going to work. (VA Code § 18.2-271.1).

If you are charged with reckless driving, the court has the discretion to find you guilty of "improper driving" instead. The prosecutor may also reduce the charge. Improper driving is punishable by a fine of not more than $500. (VA Code § 46.2-869).


Student Code of Conduct Violations

The William and Mary Student Handbook details what happens in the event that you are accused of a violation.  You should read the handbook very carefully to make certain you understand the process. (See Administration of Student Life Policies). Please check with us if you are interested in receiving more information about violations of the Student Code of Conduct.  We are currently unable to advocate for students in William and Mary disciplinary proceedings.


 Landlord Tenant Issues

Nothing in this answer should be taken as legal advice.  Situations vary and any course of action described here may not be the best or even a good course for your particular situation.

Many but, not all housing issues are covered by the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA).  

If there is a problem with a place you are renting you might want to  consider filing a complaint with the local building inspector if you believe the problem may violate the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code or city ordinances.  For Williamsburg you can find information about filing a complaint here. For James City County you can find contact information for the inspector here.

If your landlord is covered by the landlord tenant act (there a few exceptions, for example, for landlords that rent a "single family residences" and rent to less than 10 families)  and the landlord does not make repairs within 30 days, you can file suit against your landlord and pay your rent to the court pending resolution of the dispute.  Upon resolution the judge may order repairs, order your rent money returned or other remedies as seen fit.  You can find the forms neccessary to file with your local district court here. (Scroll down to "tenant's asstertion and complaint").  As always, SLS encourages all students to seek out an attorney for more information.

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