Q: My 16-year-old son “borrowed” our neighbor's car without permission and took it out for a 20-minute drive. Now, our neighbor wants to press car-theft charges. What can we do?

A: Well, a good first step might be to send your son next door to deliver a heartfelt apology. Many times, a person in this situation wants to press his case out of anger, or because he feels that his concerns have not been taken seriously. It's amazing how far a little genuine regret and humility can go in defusing a threat to file felony charges.

If the police aren't already involved, your best bet is to negotiate with your neighbors and come up with a mutually agreed-upon solution (say, your kid has to cut their lawn for the next six months, or you agree to reimburse them for their inconvenience with cash). However, if your neighbor has already alerted the police that his car was “stolen” and has identified the alleged culprit, the situation is more complicated. The police have probably already interviewed you, your neighbors, and your son, and more than likely some sort of Virginia juvenile traffic charges are pending.

What can you expect? Well, unless there are aggravating circumstances (say, this isn't the first time your son has “borrowed” a car), it's unlikely that the authorities will file car-theft charges. However, your son may find himself facing a charge of “unauthorized use of a vehicle,” which is a class-one misdemeanor traffic offense in Virginia. This means he'll have to pay a substantial fine, and, if he already has a driver's license, that license may be suspended or revoked for a period of time.

If a joyriding incident is no longer a matter between you and your neighbors, but one involving the Virginia criminal justice system, the first thing you and your son need to do is to hire a lawyer. Call the Virginia traffic attorneys at Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman, PC at 888-783-9701 for a free consultation.