Delegate Matthew James pleads guilty to driving while intoxicated

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Matthew James
Virginia Delegate Matthew James (Democrat - Hampton Roads) at a Small Business Forum in 2010. Image: Senator Mark Warner (CC2.0)

State lawmaker Matthew James pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in a Portsmouth, Virginia courtroom on Monday.

The Democratic House of Delegates member from Hampton Roads was arrested on September 22nd 2018 with a 0.18% blood alcohol level.

Matthew James avoids prison time with guilty plea

As part of a plea agreement, Delegate James will not serve prison time following his September arrest. Instead he will receive a 60 day suspended sentence and pay a $300 fine for a first offense.

For the next six months his car will be fitted with an ignition interlock, however, which will require him to pass a breathalizer test before his car ignition will start. He will also need to avoid further driving offenses for the next year to regain his full driving license.

James made no public statement during or after the proceedings. He also has yet to confirm if he will continue to stand for reelection in November 2019.

James did file to run again before the March deadline, and it is possible he may once again face no opposition in the primary or general election.

According to the Norfolk-based Virginian-Pilot, no other Democrat filed to run against James. So far no Republican opponent has been confirmed by state officials.

The Virginia Department of Elections official list of candidates was released on April 16th, but did not list any candidates for James’ 80th district (including James himself). Eight other districts (1, 7, 8, 17, 19, 75, 76, and 97) were also left off the official list without explanation. (full list available here)

Account of the arrest

Delegate Matthew James was arrested by Mark Machan, an officer from Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, on the night of September 22nd 2018 at roughly 8:30pm.

The officer observed a SUV run a stop sign and almost hit another vehicle. The officer followed the SUV, and observed more erratic driving.

Machan explained in his arrest report, “As we followed the vehicle, it crossed the solid white line and drove while straddling it for approximately 3 seconds, then crossed back into the lane while driving slowly.”

After being pulled over, James handed Machan an expired driving license but no car registration. He failed both the field sobriety test and the portable breathalizer test.

“He kept placing his hand on the vehicle and steadying himself,” Machan wrote. “He also appeared unsteady on his feet.”

After his arrest, James was brought to the Portsmouth Police Department headquarters where he registered a blood alcohol level of 0.18% on a breathalizer.

James apologizes for his actions

Several days after his arrest, James issued a written statement to the media:

“I sincerely apologize for my actions and look forward to restoring all negative impacts on my family, friends, constituents as well as colleagues related to this one time incident.

“Lastly, I ask you to keep us in your prayers and respect our privacy throughout this difficult time.”

James was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2009, after defeating Republican candidate Jennifer Lee by a more than two-to-one margin.

In the four elections since he has not faced any challenger in either a Democratic primary, or a general election.

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