9 Strange Laws in the Virginia Criminal Code

In this article, we list 9 strange laws in the Virginia criminal code which are still relevant today, from trespassing in a graveyard to swearing in public.

The Virginia Code includes several odd and interesting laws. Sometimes, these laws are there for a very specific purpose. In other cases, they may simply be holdovers from previous decades.

While preparing articles for our Knowledge Base, we often come across strange code sections which may require explaining. Below, we’ll outline the 9 sections we’ve found to be the most interesting.

1) It is Illegal to Shine a Light on a Poultry House or Similar Structure – VA Code § 18.2-509

close up on chicken in side coop in back yard

To begin with an incredibly specific one, it is currently illegal to shine a light into a poultry house or similar structure in a way which might cause the animals to panick or become injured.

Specifically, “any person who shines a light into a poultry house or similar structure at night” may be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor.

As an additional note of interest, the Virginia Code groups this law with other “miscellaneous” code sections. This list of oddball laws criminalizes actions ranging from duplicating house keys to concealing wills.

2) It is Illegal to Swear in Public – VA Code § 18.2-388

The Virginia Code has a chapter detailing certain crimes “involving morals and decency.” This chapter covers moral crimes ranging from gambling to animal cruelty, and also includes a section which outlaws both profanity and public intoxication.

Specifically:

“If any person profanely curses or swears or is intoxicated in public, whether such intoxication results from alcohol [or drugs]…he shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

Virginia Code § 18.2-388

Futher, this code section states that if an officer catches you swearing in public, while drunk, they can either arrest you or transport you to a “detoxification center in lieu of arrest.”

Generally, this means either paying a small fine after an arrest or spending a night sleeping off the alcohol in jail. However, you’re more likely to be charged under Va. Code § 18.2-415 for disorderly conduct than specifically for swearing in public.

3) It is Illegal to Practice Law Without a License – VA Code § 54.1-3904

gavel on a law book, dark background.

You may be smart, and you may have strong opinions, but you can’t go around giving legal advice for a living or practicing law unless you’re a lawyer.

Generally speaking, this means you have to go to law school and pass the bar exam in order to represent other people in court.

If you practice law without a license, you’ll be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Further, if you practice law with a falsified license, you may be in a whole other heap of trouble.

This law is not unique to Virginia, as many other states also recognize the danger this action poses to the public.

The Virginia Code does, however, make an exception for collection agencies. They’re required to act lawyer-like when they escalate an unpaid account to try to get payment.

Ultimately, however, they still have to refer unpaid accounts to a lawyer for litigation.

4) It is Illegal to Construct a Spring Loaded Firearm Trap – VA Code § 18.2-281

While it may sound obvious, traps which use deadly weapons are illegal in Virginia.

Specifically, setting a trap that uses any firearm or similar deadly weapon that can be discharged using a string, wire, etc. is a Class 6 felony in Virginia.

5) It is Illegal to Wander around a Cemetery at Night – VA Code § 18.2-125

Fallen maple leaf on tombstone in autumn cemetery, copy space

Surprisingly, the Virginia Code includes many sections which outline specific places that you should avoid trespassing on.

Ranging from schools to certain government buildings, there are places which you legally cannot go during certain time periods.

As one interesting case of this, the Virginia Code has an entire section which makes it illegal to trespass on a cemetery at night. Doing so is punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor.

6) It is Illegal to Remove a Transmitter from an Animal Without Permission – VA Code § 18.2-97.1

Natural scientists in Virginia have been able to gather information about animals, especially large birds, by using tiny GPS transmitters to track their location and flight patterns. These transmitters are light (less than 80 grams) and don’t hinder the bird at all.

However, if someone finds a bird fitted with a transmitter, they may misunderstand the device and remove it.

Similarly, people put transmitters on their pets or other animals to keep them inside electric fences or find them should they escape.

The Virginia Code criminalizes the removal of such transmitting devices as a crime against property. Further, such a crime is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, and you may have to pay civil damages to the owner of the device.

7) It is Illegal to Drive a Golf Cart Across a Highway – VA Code § 46.2-916.2 & § 46.2-916.3

Golf Cart Crossing sign on a residential street intersection with blurred lush green trees in the background.

Of course, golf carts don’t belong on the highway. But what if you have to cross over a busy road to get your golf cart from place to place?

In almost every situation, crossing a highway in a golf cart or other utility vehicle is against the law. This includes ATVs and other similar vehicles.

However, there are some exceptions:

  • When the speed limit is less than 25mph, or less than 35mph, and if you’re crossing at a traffic light.
  • If the town has a population of less than 2,000, and there is a marked golf cart crossing, AND the speed limit is less than 25mph.

Even under these circumstances, if a person crosses the highway in a golf cart or similar utility vehicle they must also:

  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Display a “slow moving vehicle” sign
  • Cross during the day

While this is in the Virginia Code, a locality within the state may also have their own laws allowing or prohibiting golf carts on roadways.

8) It is Illegal to Hunt on a Sunday, Unless it’s a Raccoon – VA Code § 29.1-521

The Virginia Code includes many laws which regulate hunting, boating and fishing in the Commonwealth. Many of these regulations dictate when you may do these activities.

Most relevant here, it is illegal to hunt on Sundays in Virginia, unless you’re hunting a raccoon. This includes hunting with a gun, bow, dogs, or any other weapon. Violators of this law will be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

As with many of these laws, there are some exceptions:

  • You may not hunt raccoons within 200 yards of a place of worship.
  • You can still hunt on Sundays if you have both (1) written permission from the landowner, and (2) you’re not hunting within 200 yards of a place of worship.

What this essentially means is that it’s perfectly legal to hunt on private property as long as you have the permission of the owner. You must also stay a significant distance away from any churches or other place of worship.

9) It is Illegal to Use an X-Ray Machine for Shoe Fitting – VA Code 18.2-321

the scientist measures the level of radiation against the background of the sign of radiation hazard with the help of a dosimeter

As one final law worth looking over, it is technically illegal to use an x-ray machine or similar device for fitting shoes in Virginia. Doing so is a Class 3 misdemeanor.

There is a very interesting history behind this law. In the early 20th century, x-rays were starting to be used regularly in medicine, and the public was fascinated by the invention. Inventors began looking for practical uses for the x-ray in everyday life.

One of these inventions was an x-ray machine that let sellers view their customer’s feet while trying on different shoes.

These small x-ray machines looked like wooden boxes with an opening for a foot. A person – often a child – would put their foot inside. The foot would then be x-rayed so that the salesperson could see where the foot ended and where the shoe began. This helped the salesman tell if the shoe was a good fit.

Of course, these early users didn’t yet know about the dangers of radiation. After research came forward that linked x-ray radiation to cancer, Virginia passed this law banning the machines in 1950.

Conclusion

While some of these laws may seem odd at first, most have very real and serious concerns behind them. From protecting animals from injury to preventing health issues such as cancer, most laws in the Virginia Code have both a purpose and a history.

Despite the weird nature of these laws, you should remember that they are still crimes punishable with both fines and, in some cases, jail time.

If you find yourself on the wrong side of these laws, make sure to speak with an experienced attorney immediately.

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