How New Virginia Criminal Laws Will Affect You

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Every year new laws in Virginia take effect on July 1. This year legislators have enacted a number of new laws that affect police, public safety and its citizens. These laws range from obscure (banning pornography in prisons) to welcome (mandatory reporting of college sexual assaults). Here are a few highlights:

1. POLICE DRONES : As of July 1, 2015 law-enforcement agencies must get search warrants to use unmanned-aircraft systems. In 2013, the state imposed a ban on the police use of these devices so that lawmakers could consider how drones affect privacy rights. The new law makes Virginia the 12th state to require warrants for drone use. Although many agencies have not prepared or budgeted for the use of unmanned drones the Wise County and Virginia Beach Police Departments acknowledge that they are researching the imminent use of drone technology. Law enforcement agencies that plan to pursue drone use would still have to obtain permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.

2. RED LIGHT CAMERAS AND TRAFFIC RULES : Drivers can now cross double yellow lines to pass pedestrians and cyclists safely. Drivers can also now to appeal tickets to the Circuit Court in a civil proceeding.

3. SEX OFFENDERS ON SCHOOL PROPERTY: Registered sex offenders cannot go onto school property even if their children attend the school. This creates a severe problem for parents that are registered offenders. Such offenders have always been able to petition courts for permission to go on to school property. This year lawmakers have changed the rules so that now offenders that ask permission to go onto school property must publicize a hearing at which members of the public may speak. For a public school, the offender must notify the school board chairman and the state superintendent of public instruction of the petition.

4. COLLEGE CAPMUS SEXUAL ASSAULTS: Starting July 1, Campus police must notify local prosecutors within 48 hours of starting an investigation into a reported felony sexual assault. University registrars must also note the transcripts of students suspended, expelled or withdrawn from school because of such assaults.

These laws have been in effect for less than a week. It is too early to determine their impact. Upcoming weeks will determine how courts, police, and lawyers enact these rules.
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