If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, it can be one of the most stressful periods of your life. Much of the stress is caused by knowing the serious consequences you face and the uncertainty of the outcome. Any conviction—even for a misdemeanor—can have long-term consequences on your life, including a permanent criminal record. While no attorney can guarantee what will happen in your case, an experienced criminal defense attorney can give you guidance what will happen. Understanding how a criminal case works and the possible results can help you to make better choices in your criminal case.
The Outcomes You May Face If You Are Charged With a Crime
Many people are under the misconception that there are only two outcomes in a criminal case: guilty or not guilty. However, in Virginia, there are more possible results than this. The potential outcomes of your criminal case include the following:
- Dismissal. A dismissal with prejudice is the best possible outcome of your case—this means that the charges against you go away and can never be brought again. A prosecutor may agree to this if there is insufficient evidence that you committed the crime or there is a lack of witnesses. Also, the judge could make a decision in your criminal case that the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to proceed and could dismiss the charges against you. Finally, the charges could be dismissed if you comply with a minor violation that you were charged with committing or as part of a plea agreement.
- Nolle prosequi. This is also referred to as a nolle prosse and is a dismissal of the case without prejudice. This means that the charges could be filed against you again at a later date. A prosecutor could agree to this if he has insufficient evidence presently but may have it at a later date—for example if he gets positive results from forensic testing—or the victim does not want to proceed. The charges may be refiled if you violate a similar law in a short period of time. There are time limits for bringing the charges against you again that vary depending on the severity of the crime you were charged with committing.
- Not guilty. If your case goes to trial, the judge or jury who is deciding your case could decide that the prosecutor failed to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and find you not guilty. If this occurs, you cannot be charged with this crime again.
- General continuance. In this situation, you may be technically guilty of the crime, but can present enough mitigating factors that the prosecutor or judge agrees to a general continuance of the criminal case. The judge makes no determination that there are sufficient facts to support a finding of your guilt, and he may not indicate what your plea to the charge is. In a general continuance, the judge could continue your case for several months to a few years with the understanding that the case will be dismissed once the time period has passed. There are often conditions set for the case to be dismissed, such as no new criminal charges and completing classes—such as anger management, alcohol or drug abuse, and community service. This is only granted if you have no prior convictions and can allow for your criminal record to be expunged.
- Deferred finding. This is also referred to as a finding under advisement or first offender. Certain criminal offenses, such as domestic violence, drug offenses, and some property crimes, have statutory provisions that allow for this outcome. It is similar to a general continuance except for a very important distinction. When the judge agrees to a deferred finding, he makes a finding that there are sufficient facts to support a conviction. This means that the criminal charge could never be expunged from your criminal record, which could have devastating consequences for your military or civilian career.
- Plea agreement. Many criminal cases are resolved by an agreement between you and the prosecutor as to the resolution of your case. There are two types of plea agreements. If you enter into a plea agreement, the agreement will include the sentence that will be imposed, and the judge will indicate at your hearing whether he accepts the plea agreement. In a plea and recommendation, the prosecutor only agrees to recommend a sentence or say nothing at sentencing as part of the agreement. However, the outcome is unknown, and the judge will set the sentence to be imposed.
- Guilty after trial. If the judge or jury finds you guilty of the crime you are charged with at trial, you will be sentenced by the judge. Your punishment will depend on the crime you have been convicted of committing and could include fines, jail or prison sentence, home electronic monitoring, and probation.
The actual resolution of your case will depend on the severity of the crime you are being charged with, the facts surrounding the crime, and the strengths of the prosecutor’s case against you. In addition, hiring an experienced attorney who is experienced in handling criminal cases like yours, thoroughly investigates his cases, and mounts a strong defense, can influence what occurs.
If you have been charged with a crime, call our Fairfax office today to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys.