Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to some of the questions we get asked most frequently at the Pack Law Group in Bedford as we advise and represent clients in central Virginia in the areas of criminal defense and DUI, divorce and family law, auto accidents and other personal injury. If you have other questions or need help with a particular legal matter, call 540-586-7225 for immediate assistance.
Criminal Defense and DUI FAQs
Q. What should I do if the police stop me or pull me over and start asking me questions?
A. You may think that cooperating with the police is required, or that it is the best way to avoid arrest. You may even think that you have nothing to hide, and answering their questions will be the quickest way to clear your name. The reality is that if the police want to question you, they probably already suspect you of committing a crime, and all they are looking for is as a reason to arrest you. Rather than looking to clear you as a suspect, they are hoping you will make an incriminating or contradictory statement that they can use to arrest you, elicit a confession or use against you in court. Law enforcement officers are actually trained experts at interrogation techniques. There is usually no benefit to you to agreeing to submit to police questioning, whether you are in custody or not. You are generally better off to respectfully but firmly decline to answer questions and to instead request that speak with an attorney first.
Q. Do I have to let the police search my car if they pull me over?
A. In most instances, before police can search you or your property, including your car, they need to either have a warrant or probable cause. The law surrounding car searches is complicated, however. You may not have the expertise to judge whether a search is lawful or not, but you do not want to obstruct or interfere with a police search. If a search is unlawful, your attorney can work to have any evidence suppressed or get the charges dismissed. The only thing you need to be clear on is whether the police are asking your permission to search or not. If they are asking for your consent, they may not have the cause to search unless you allow it. The police have nothing to lose by asking you if they can search your car, and you would be surprised by how many people agree because they want to be helpful or don’t know any better. Even if you have nothing to hide, it is your right to say no when asked for permission to search.
Q. Do I have to take a breath test when I’m pulled over? What if I refuse?
A. By driving on Virginia roads, you have given your “implied consent” to submit to a breath test when an officer has arrested you based on probable cause that you were driving under the influence of alcohol. If you refuse to take the test, your driver’s license will be suspended for one year. If you have previously refused to take a test within the last ten years, then for a subsequent refusal your license will be suspended for three years. Also, the fact that you refused the test will be used as evidence against you in court that you had been drinking.
Note that this only applies to a chemical test of your breath, such as with a breathalyzer machine. Often times the police will ask you to take a preliminary alcohol screen from a portable device like an Alco-Sensor. These portable breath tests are less reliable than a chemical test, but they are used by police to help establish probable cause to arrest you and then make you take a chemical test. You are within your rights to refuse the preliminary alcohol screen, and your refusal cannot be used against you in court.
Family Law FAQs
Q. Should I sign a prenuptial agreement before I get married?
A. A prenuptial agreement can help future spouses enter into marriage with security and peace of mind that they will be taken care of and not taken advantage of in the event of a divorce. Most prenuptial or premarital agreements spell out whether spousal support (alimony) will be paid, and also how any separate or marital property will be dealt with. Prenuptial agreements are often favored when the spouses have vastly different incomes or assets, or when they have been married before and went through a rough divorce. Also, if a person has children from a previous marriage, a prenuptial agreement is one way to protect that child’s rights to inherit from the parent.
To be valid in Virginia, a prenuptial agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. It must be entered into voluntarily by both parties as well. If the agreement is overly one-sided, it probably won’t be enforced, unless both parties received a fair and reasonable disclosure of assets and liabilities from the other party or waived the right to such a disclosure in writing.
Q. My ex wants to take the kids and move out of state. Can she do that if she has primary custody?
A. A relocation out of state or any distance away that would cause a disruption in the custody arrangement or visitation schedule would most likely require a court order modifying the existing custody orders. Your ex would have to go to court to request a modification, and you could challenge the move if you believe it is not in the children’s best interests. Your ex would need to prove to the judge that the move would not be detrimental to the kids and would be in their best interest.
Personal Injury FAQs
Q. I was waiting to turn when I got rear-ended. The insurance company says I was partly to blame in causing the accident and refuses to pay. Can they do that?
A. Virginia is one of only a handful of jurisdictions that follows the rule of pure contributory negligence. This means that if you contributed to your damages in any way, you will be barred from any recovery from the other negligent party. Don’t just take the insurance company’s word for it, though. Talk to an experienced attorney with your interests at heart who will take the time to investigate the accident and determine whether you were truly at fault in some way. Ultimately, it may be the jury who decides this issue. Most personal injury attorneys will not charge you anything to look into your case and will only collect a fee if and when they achieve a recovery for you.
Q. What are punitive damages and when can I get them?
A. Most often damages in a personal injury case are compensatory damages, meaning they are meant to compensate the plaintiff for harm and loss such as medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant to punish the defendant for particularly bad conduct and serve as an example to others that society will not tolerate such conduct. Punitive damages are only available when the defendant engaged in “willful or wanton conduct” or recklessness that showed a conscious disregard for the safety of others. This is a high standard to meet. Also, punitive damage awards are capped by law at $350,000. While it is more difficult and takes more work to pursue punitive damages, the attorneys at Pack Law Group put in the time and effort to seek punitive damages in appropriate cases.