Still on the Books: A Look at State Laws
While a number of out-of-date laws have been purged from the books in Virginia, there are still some that raise eyebrows or make you wonder 'how in the world this law was enacted in the first place?'
We are diving into Virginia's crime codes and taking a look at some of the things you can still be arrested for in the state. The list is surprising and a bit funny - all things considered. Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman agreed to review the laws in question and provide some background on them.
Sales of Speleothems: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?000+cod+10.1-1007
Did you know that it is unlawful to sell a speleothem? Speleothems are the formations in caves including stalactites and stalagmites. According to Virginia law, you could spend up to a year in jail if you are caught selling them, even if the cave is on your property.
Chapman said, "That is for the purpose of protecting the fragile and many times spectacular and beautiful ancient forms that are to be found."
Are you aware that there is a law concerning wild ginseng and when it is harvested. The plant is an endangered species and found in mountainous areas of the commonwealth. But there is a specific harvest season from August 15 through the end of each year, get caught harvesting out of season and you could spend up to a year in jail.
Chapman said, "If you started taking ginseng from somebody else's patch, that might get you shot - way back in the day."
On the agriculture front, there is a law that regulates potato seeds. A seed potato board has actually created a series of enforceable policies for the plant here in Virginia.
Violations of the law can range from a fine all the way up to a year in jail if caught.
We're told the law is important because it helps prevent blighted potato crops from hitting the commercial sector and ruining the harvest.
When you think of hams in the commonwealth, Smithfield should come to mind. Smithfield is a brand that is protected in length by Virginia law, it is the only brand that gets the legal honor.
In Virginia, it is illegal to call a piece of pork a 'Smithfield ham' unless it is smoked, aged and processed within the Smithfield town limits.
Get caught red-handed trying to forge one and you can face a fine.
Shooting Birds for Amusement: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?000+cod+3.2-6573
In Virginia, it is illegal to shoot birds for amusement. There is a long list of "nuisance" birds that can be shot anytime of the year, but it has to be justified or you will be fined.
Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman says it is a tough law to prosecute. "The law enforcement officer, in enforcing that code provision, would have the need to distinguish between someone who is killing birds for mere amusement versus someone who is doing it because they are a nuisance."
Underwater Property Recovery: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?000+cod+10.1-2214
The next time you are diving or just in the water, be careful what you bring to the surface. Under Virginia law, it is illegal to recover any historic property from any watery depths without a permit. Violators can be put in jail for up to a year.
Spitting in public places: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?000+cod+18.2-322
It is still illegal to spit in public and you can be fined for it. Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman has prosecuted and defended many people in his career for some very serious crimes, murder, drugs - and even - spitting in public. "Some that we've used from time to time but perhaps not in years and years."
Fishing with Explosives: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?000+cod+29.1-533
For some reason, the General Assembly spelled out - in great detail - the fact that you cannot use explosives while fishing. If you do, you might be behind bars for a year.
Lt. Ronnie Roberts of the Charlottesville Police Department said, "It's an unfair practice in fishing, takes the fun out of fishing actually."
Here is one to make you blush: single people are not allowed to have sexual relations in the commonwealth. On the books since 1950, fornication - voluntarily having unmarried sexual intercourse - is still illegal and punishable by fine.
"It's one of those statues that is still on the books - absolutely unconstitutional - no questions about it," Chapman said.
There is a law on the books that says you cannot have a flamethrower attached to your car. Even though you might be frustrated with that rush hour traffic along Route 29, it is against the law.
Smoke screens are also banned, get caught and you are off to jail for up to five years.
Chapman said, "Can't say we are never going to see one in Charlottesville, but I don't expect to in my lifetime."
There are some interesting local laws as well:
- In Waynesboro it is illegal for a woman to drive a car up Main Street unless her husband is walking in front of the car waving a red flag.
- In Culpeper, no one may wash a mule on the sidewalk.
- In Richmond it is illegal to flip a coin in a restaurant to see who pays for a coffee.
- In Norfolk a man faces 60 days in jail for patting a woman's derriere.
- In Prince William County, it is illegal to cuss about another person.
- Click here for more crazy Virginia laws.