A charge of Fare Evasion is a misdemeanor and is a crime in Fairfax County. Sometimes it is simply an accidental failure to pay while other times it is intentional. In either case, it is important to get the charge dismissed so you don't have it as a criminal record.
The majority of Fare Evasion cases we see involve people using their Farecard at the Metro Station (WMATA) but it has insufficient funds. However, many times, they are still able to make it through the gate because they simply followed the person in front of them and then, surprisingly, are stopped by an officer and charged with the offense. In another case we had, our client did not put his Farecard close enough to the card reader and swiped it too high where it wasn't getting read. Because the Fairfax County Code makes it clear that the offense must be "knowingly" we were able to have those charges dropped.
What is Fare Evasion
Fairfax County Code §82-1-6 criminalizes the act of boarding a bus, train, or other public passenger vehicle without paying. In addition, it is likewise illegal if you fail to leave a public passenger vehicle or paid area of the WMATA rail transit area after having been ordered to do so by the operator or other designated agent.
An example of fare evasion cited by the Washington Post occurred in a case where a recent graduate of Georgetown University used the Metro. However, it turned out his Farecard had insufficient funds and was stopped by the police after being essentially pushed through the gate by the hoard of people behind him. Even though he showed up in a suit and plead his case in front of the Judge, he did not have a lawyer and was convicted of Fare Evasion by the Judge.
Punishment for Fare Evasion in Fairfax County
Though fare evasion is a misdemeanor in Fairfax County, you will not face jail time. Rather, a conviction is a fine of up to $100. Even though the punishment is not severe, we recommend you hire a criminal defense attorney and so we can work towards having the charge dismissed. If, for example, the card simply had insufficient funds, we'll have you put money on it and show the prosecutor the issue has been resolved. In addition, if appropriate, we may have you repay the Metro or other public transportation service used. Most cases get dismissed this way as otherwise "complied."
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Because Fare Evasion is a Misdemeanor, we recommend you do everything you can to avoid a conviction. Many people who take public transportation, such as the Metro, are government employees who have a security clearance. Avoiding a conviction is necessary to avoid a problem when trying to renew the clearance. In addition, while it is a County Code, it can show up in a background check.
In many of these cases, we can appear for Court on your behalf so you won't have to miss work or other obligations. We represent all of our clients in a manner as stress-free as possible while pursuing their objectives.