The Answers You Need to Many Common Legal Questions
Often, our clients have little experience with the law, and they share many questions and concerns when faced with a legal matter. The attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC understand you need answers, and we offer many of them here. Hear our thoughts on issues relating to criminal charges, traffic charges, real estate transactions, civil litigation, personal injury cases, business disputes, administrative hearings, and more.
- Page 4
What are common grounds to suppress evidence in criminal cases?
If you have been charged with committing a crime, you must raise all possible defenses you can and take any other helpful steps to fight the charges against you. You have too much at stake not to. One way to do this is to file a motion to suppress evidence. This can be an extremely useful strategy in your criminal defense. However, you cannot expect to successfully file these motions on your own. You will need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What Is a Motion to Suppress Evidence?
A motion to suppress evidence asks the judge not to allow certain evidence to be used against you by the prosecutor in your criminal case. In criminal cases, the police and prosecutors are not allowed to use evidence against you that was illegally obtained. This is known as the Exclusionary Rule and ensures that your Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures and other constitutional rights are not violated.
Another helpful doctrine that also can result in the suppression of evidence is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Under this legal theory, evidence that would be otherwise admissible would be excluded if it was obtained through the violation of your constitutional rights. For example, a suspect may confess to a crime and tell the police where the murder weapon is. However, if the police did not inform him of his Miranda rights when required to or continued to question him after he asked for an attorney, the confession and the murder weapon may be suppressed and not allowed to be used against the suspect.
What Are Common Grounds to File a Motion to Suppress Evidence?
Even if you know you are guilty of the charges, you can file a motion to suppress evidence if you have proper grounds to do so. If the evidence is important enough to the police’s case against you, the charges against you may be dismissed. When the evidence is suppressed, but the case against you continues, you may have significantly weakened the prosecutor’s case, which could result in a favorable outcome down the road. Common grounds to file a motion to suppress include:
- Unlawful search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment protects you against unlawful search and seizure of your property and yourself. The police must have a valid search warrant or arrest warrant or probable cause to believe a crime was committed in order to stop you and search for evidence. If evidence was illegally obtained, it cannot be used against you.
- Failure to give Miranda warnings. When the police take you into custody, they are required to inform you of your Miranda rights. This includes informing you of your right to remain silent, that anything you say can be used against you, and that you have a right to an attorney. If the police fail to give you this warning, any statements or confession you made or other evidence the police obtained due to this failure could be suppressed.
- Chain of custody errors. Chain of custody refers to the proper procedures the police must use in handling pieces of evidence from the moment it is collected until it is used at trial. For example, if evidence is mislabeled or mixed with evidence in another case, it could lose its credibility and not be admissible in your criminal court hearings.
There are other reasons that your attorney may decide to file a motion to suppress evidence. Other common grounds for these motions include:
- Field sobriety tests were not administered according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards as required under the law.
- DUI or drug test evidence was compromised in its testing, handling, labeling, transport, or storage.
- Breathalyzer tests were inaccurate or the testing device was not maintained properly or malfunctioned.
- The search warrant was invalid or was not specific enough.
- Independent expert witness testimony raises reasonable doubts about a certain piece of evidence.
- Evidence was acquired in another unconstitutional fashion.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be trained to spot the constitutional grounds that can be used successfully file a motion to suppress evidence. These motions often involve complex constitutional issues, and you want an attorney who has experience filing and arguing them on your side. If you have been arrested, call our Fairfax law office today to schedule a free consultation to learn how our legal team can help build your defense and fight the charges you face.
What are my rights to discovery in a criminal case in Virginia?
If you have been charged with a crime, you have the right to certain kinds of evidence and other information before your scheduled trial. These materials are known as discovery. Each state has its own rules on what discovery must be provided by the prosecution and the defense. Unfortunately, Virginia’s rules on disclosing evidence favors the prosecutor. However, even with the limitations on what you can obtain through the discovery process, receiving and reviewing any information that you can obtain from the prosecutor is essential to building a strong defense.
What Are Your Rights to Discovery in Virginia?
Discovery is the process by which defendants find out about the prosecutor’s case against them. This information can be crucial for a criminal defense attorney to build a strong defense to the charges and to help the person charged with the crime decide whether entering into a plea agreement is in his interests. Discovery is an ongoing obligation. If you are a defendant in a criminal proceeding, the prosecution has a duty to provide you with the following:
- Any statement made by you
- Your prior criminal history
- Information on any expert witnesses the prosecution intends to use at trial
- The results of any scientific tests performed
- Books, papers, documents, photographs, and other tangible evidence that the prosecutor has and that is material to your case
- Exculpatory evidence
The prosecutor has no duty to disclose his strategies, legal theories, and notes regarding your criminal case. This is known as his work product and is not required to be provided to you. Discovery is now reciprocal, which means that you as a criminal defendant have obligations to disclose certain information to the prosecutor. In general, the information that you are required to share is similar to what the prosecutor must provide to you.
What Is Exculpatory Evidence?
Under the U.S. Constitution, the prosecutor is required to provide the defendant’s attorney with any exculpatory evidence in his possession or control. This is known as Brady information and is named after a famous U.S. Supreme Court case that established the requirement that the prosecution turn over exculpatory evidence. It is usually defined as evidence that tends to dispute the defendant’s guilt or would suggest a lesser punishment. In addition, the evidence does not have to strongly suggest innocence. It must be provided if it provides significant aid to the defendant’s case, including providing any doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.
In order to ensure that they receive this required information, criminal defense attorneys often formally request this evidence in a written request or motion early on in the criminal proceeding. In addition, the attorney may interview other parties that could be aware of other exculpatory evidence.
If there are Brady violations by the prosecutor, the court could overturn a conviction and set a new trial date. The judge is more likely to find a violation if the defense counsel made a written request for the information. This is one reason a thorough discovery is so important to a defendant’s defense.
Special Rules Regarding Discovery in Misdemeanor Cases
In district courts in Virginia, which is where misdemeanor criminal cases are heard, there are special rules regarding discovery. The prosecutor is only required to provide the following information:
- Any statement that the defendant has given to the police
- The defendant’s criminal record
Under this rule, criminal defense attorneys must make a formal request for this information at least 10 days before the trial date. In some instances, the prosecutor may not provide it until the morning of the trial.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the discovery process can be slightly different depending on the jurisdiction where a criminal case is being heard. Different prosecutors can have a different interpretation of what they are required to disclose. In addition, having an experienced criminal defense attorney who has experience working with the prosecutor can make the discovery process in your case go more smoothly.
At Greenspun Shapiro PC, our criminal defense attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience handling criminal cases for our clients, fighting for their rights, and working with prosecutors in many jurisdictions. If you are facing criminal charges, do not delay in scheduling your free consultation. Start an online chat today to schedule your appointment.
What long-term consequences could a criminal conviction have on my life?
Completing a criminal sentence successfully is a daunting task. It can require acceptance of the loss of freedoms that we take for granted. If you are sentenced to jail or prison, you literally lose your liberty and much of the control over your daily life. Even if you are sentenced to probation, you could have to abstain from alcohol or drug use, submit to random drug and alcohol tests, and lose your right to drive a vehicle for long periods of time. In addition, you could owe expensive court costs and fines that must be paid within a set time limit or you could risk being sentenced to prison. Unfortunately, the implications of a conviction can last long after you fulfill the requirements of your sentence.
What Are the Long-Term Consequences of a Criminal Conviction?
Whether you are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense, the aftermath of a criminal conviction can filter into many important areas of your life. A major negative ramification is that you will have a permanent criminal record. Here are just some of the ways that a criminal conviction can change your life:
- Employment. Because the job market is often tight, employers can be selective about who they interview and hire. Having to list a criminal conviction on a job application can result in you not even being selected for an interview—at least for a good, well-paying job. Some convictions will exclude you from certain professions or stop you from getting the license you need to work in that profession. For example, a school district would not hire a person with a sex offender conviction.
- Loans. You may find it difficult to obtain a mortgage, auto loan, business loan, or other loan due to your criminal conviction. Some lenders will deny loan applications which list a criminal conviction, seeing this as impacting on a person’s character and ability to repay the loan or consider him a high-risk borrower.
- Student loans. While a conviction does not automatically eliminate your eligibility for financial aid for college, it could impact on your ability to qualify. If you were convicted of the possession or sale of illegal drugs, you could be ineligible for assistance.
- Landlords. Landlords often conduct background checks before approving a prospective tenant. A landlord could consider you a credit risk if you have a criminal record, especially if you were convicted of a felony. Your housing options could be even more limited if you have been convicted of a sexual offense.
- Sexual offender registry. If you are convicted of certain sexual offenses, you could be required to register on a state sexual offender register. This could limit where you can live and negatively impact on your ability to obtain a job. In addition, the public can search these registries and learn of your conviction, which may have occurred years ago.
- Voting. In some states, you could lose your right to vote, serve on a jury, or hold a public office if you are convicted of a felony.
- Immigration status. Your conviction could have serious implications for your immigration status. You could be denied the right to enter or remain in the United States, denied citizenship, and face deportation.
- Travel. Even a misdemeanor conviction can limit your ability to travel to other countries. Some, such as Canada, may refuse to admit a person into their country who has been convicted of certain misdemeanors or felonies.
- Security clearance. Being arrested or convicted of a crime may affect your security clearance—and your ability to do your job. A number of factors are considered in giving and renewing a security clearance, such as overall character, loyalty, honesty, and financial responsibility. A criminal conviction can negatively impact many of these factors and could result in the denial or revocation of a security clearance.
- Custody. A judge is required to consider the best interests of the children in awarding custody. Your character and ability to be a good parent could be called into question in a custody battle if you have been convicted of committing a crime.
If you have been charged with a crime, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you lessen the long-term ramifications of a criminal conviction. At Greenspun Shapiro PC, our criminal defense legal team understands how a criminal conviction can negatively impact your life and are committed to helping you build a strong defense to reduce the short-term and long-term consequences. To learn how we can help you, call our office today to schedule a free consultation.
What questions should I ask my criminal defense attorney to help understand how he is handling my case?
Being charged with any crime is a frightening experience, and the outcome could have long-term consequences on the rest of your life. When you decide to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is important that you have confidence in him and in how he is handling your criminal case. Throughout your case, you want to understand what your attorney is doing to help you so that you can assist him when possible, know why he is doing what he is doing, and ensure that he is providing you with the best possible defense.
Questions to Ask Your Criminal Defense Attorney to Understand How He Is Building Your Defense
You and your attorney are a team in developing your defense to the charges you face and in attempting to arrive at the best outcome you can realistically expect. Here are some questions that you should ask your attorney so that you understand what he is doing and why he is doing it:
- Has your attorney reviewed all discovery? A key component of your criminal defense is for your attorney to obtain all discovery in your criminal case and review it thoroughly. This includes the police report, witness statements, videos and audiotapes, photographs, and any other possibly relevant evidence. You should review any evidence with your attorney. You also need to know his evaluation of the evidence, including any important missing evidence and damaging evidence.
- What steps should you take? Often there are steps that you can take to help your defense and lessen your sentence. For example, there may be documents or other records that you could obtain that could help during your case or sentencing. Should you enroll in anger management, drug rehabilitation, or other classes? Find out from your attorney what you can do.
- What is your attorney’s strategy? It is critical that you understand what defenses your attorney plans to raise in your case and how strong he believes these defenses are. You also want to discuss his overall strategy in your case regarding building your defenses and the likelihood that your case will go to trial.
- What motions will your attorney file? Even if you know you are guilty of the crime that you are charged with committing, you may have procedural or constitutional defenses that could result in the case against you being dismissed or the charges reduced to a less serious offense. For example, if the police illegally obtained evidence being used against you, your attorney may file a motion to suppress the use of this evidence. You want to know what, if any, pre-trial motions your attorney plans to file and the likelihood that this will result in the charges being dismissed or damaging evidence being suppressed.
If you are facing criminal charges, call our Fairfax office today to schedule your free consultation to get your questions answered and learn how our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you to build a strong defense.
What factors could affect the outcome of my criminal case?
After being charged with committing a crime, you most likely want to know what is going to happen to you. Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer at the beginning of a criminal case. However, certain factors could influence the outcome of your criminal case. By understanding them, you can get a better sense of what to expect in your criminal case.
Factors That Could Determine What Happens in Your Criminal Case
You first need to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can investigate the facts of the charges against you and develop your defense. While he can give you some guidelines on possible outcomes, he cannot guarantee what will occur in your case. Also, you cannot assume that you will have the same result as another person charged with the same crime. However, these factors could influence the outcome of your case:
- Facts of your case. The facts surrounding the crime that you are charged with committing and the evidence that the prosecutor has against you will play a huge role in your case. If the state has strong witnesses, photographs, video, or other compelling evidence, or you made damaging admissions, the prosecutor will most likely take a harder approach in your case, making it harder to get the charges against you reduced to a lesser offense. Your defenses will play a role in the outcome as well. If the police obtained the evidence being used against you illegally, it might be suppressed, weakening the case against you. Also, you may have other strong defenses that may enable your attorney to work out a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor.
- Your criminal history. Your prior criminal history will have a significant role in what happens in your case. If you have no other convictions, the prosecutor may be more willing to reduce the charges or allow the charges to be dismissed after you meet certain conditions, such as completing a drug rehabilitation program. However, if you have had many prior convictions, the prosecutor will be less likely to work out a favorable plea agreement.
- Prosecutor. Different prosecutors—even in the same office—will approach their cases differently. Some prosecutors are more interested in quickly moving their cases to resolution without going to trial and will be easier to enter into a plea agreement with. Others will take a hard line approach and will be unwilling to dismiss or reduce the charges.
- Judge. The judge assigned to your case may also have a significant influence on what happens. Like prosecutors, different judges approach their criminal cases differently—even in the same city or county. They may have their own rules regarding the scheduling of criminal cases and typical sentences if a person pleads or is found guilty at trial. A judge must approve a plea agreement and is not required to do so. Therefore, the prosecutor often will not offer a plea agreement that he knows the judge assigned to the case would not approve.
- Your attorney. An important factor that you have control over is your lawyer. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney will significantly increase the likelihood of a favorable result. If he conducts a thorough investigation, hires necessary experts, and builds a strong defense, he may be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense with a lighter sentence. Also, if he has a good reputation with the prosecutors and judges in the court system where your case will be heard, this can affect his ability to negotiate a resolution of your case with the prosecutor.
At Greenspun Shapiro PC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys have years of experience in defending clients charged with a variety of crimes in many different locations. Our attorneys are committed to conducting a thorough investigation and aggressively raising your defenses to arrive at a satisfactory resolution of your criminal case. Schedule a consultation by calling our Fairfax office at 703-352-0100 or filling out our online form.
What can I do to help my criminal defense attorney with my criminal case?
Being charged with any crime—even a traffic offense or misdemeanor charge—can have serious consequences regarding the sentence you could face and your life in general. Even if you are guilty of the crime you are accused of committing, there may be defenses that could result in the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. You need to do everything you can to minimize the potential negative outcomes of your arrest. How do you do this? One way is to do whatever you can to help your criminal defense attorney defend you.
Ways You Can Help Your Criminal Defense Attorney With Your Defense
Even when you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, you cannot expect him to successfully defend you without your cooperation and assistance. You and your attorney are a team, and you can do many things to help him or make his job harder by not following his advice or making mistakes. If you want a successful outcome in your case, follow these guidelines:
- Tell him your goals. As your attorney investigates your case and keeps you informed about possible outcomes in your case, be clear on your goals with him and what would be acceptable. For example, if you are willing to accept a plea agreement, you want to be certain that he knows this. Informing your attorney of your goals can help him shape your defense and to work toward achieving an outcome that you are willing to accept.
- Talk about cost. Hiring experts or an investigator and taking depositions costs money and time. While you want the best possible defense, you also need to be realistic about what you can afford and should communicate this to your lawyer.
- Be honest. You need to be 100 percent honest with your attorney if you want him to prepare the best defense for you. Answer his questions truthfully and thoroughly. Remember that attorney-client privilege protects your conversations with your attorney and that he has a duty to fight the charges whether or not he knows that you are guilty. By being honest with your lawyer, you avoid him discovering surprises that could hurt your defense and that could prevent him from giving you an honest evaluation of what could happen in your case.
- Do not talk to the police. The police are looking for statements or other information from you that they can use to strengthen their criminal case. If you have any information to disclose to the police or the prosecutor, you should discuss this with your attorney and let him convey it to them if he decides that it is in your best interests.
- Provide information promptly. Provide your attorney with the contact information for potential witnesses and any other helpful information for your defense promptly. An attorney needs this information to help build your case. Even if a witness does not want to testify, provide his information to your attorney and let him know this. Your attorney may decide to subpoena the person to testify at a hearing or your trial. Keep in mind that the earlier you provide helpful information to your attorney the more likely it is that he will have time to follow up on it and be better prepared for your hearings
- Stay off social media. You never want to post anything about your criminal case on social media. The prosecutor, his investigator, or the police will find it. If possible, stay off social media altogether until your criminal case is resolved.
- Stay in touch with your attorney. Your attorney needs to be able to contact you at all times, so you need to provide him with your current contact information. Take an active role in your case by regularly communicating with your attorney about the progress in your case. However, avoid contacting him on a daily basis.
- Be on time for appointments and court hearings. You want to be on time for any court hearings. A good way to do this is to plan to be there early.
- Dress appropriately and be respectful. When you attend court hearings, you want to make a good impression on the judge. You can do this by dressing appropriately as if you were going to a job interview and being respectful of the judge, court bailiff, and other court personnel.
- Follow your attorney’s advice. You hired your attorney to help defend you and give you advice on what to do. If you want to achieve the best possible outcome, you need to follow your attorney’s advice.
Have you been charged with a crime? Call our Fairfax office or start an online chat today to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our trusted criminal defense attorneys to learn how the superior legal representation we provide to our clients can help you.
What are the possible outcomes in my criminal case?
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.
How can hiring an attorney help me if I am charged with a crime?
Being charged with a crime can be an emotional and frightening experience. A conviction can mean the difference between your incarceration and your freedom, as well as having long-term consequences on your life. Even a misdemeanor conviction can result in a hefty fine, possible jail sentence, and a permanent criminal record. You do not want to face these negative ramifications on your own. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential to a more positive outcome—whether you are innocent or guilty.
Ways a Lawyer Can Help You If You Are Charged With a Crime
Every criminal case has its own unique facts. Based on his years of handling criminal cases, an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to pick out the special facts and laws that apply to your case to develop a strong defense. He also has other jobs that can benefit you besides cross-examining witnesses at your trial. Some of the ways he can assist you include:
- Plea agreement. If it is in your best interests, your attorney can work with the prosecutor to help you enter into a plea bargain. These agreements usually involve some of the charges against you being dismissed or your sentence being reduced. A prosecutor will often be more willing to enter into a more favorable plea agreement with an attorney than an unrepresented defendant.
- Sentencing program. If you are convicted of a crime or plead guilty, your attorney may know about sentencing programs that can reduce some of the negative consequences of your possible sentence. For example, you may be placed on probation rather than be sentenced to jail if you enter into a drug treatment program.
- Emotions. Many people who are charged with a crime experience depression, anxiety, and embarrassment. Your attorney can help you deal with these feelings and let you know that you are not alone in experiencing them.
- Investigation. Your attorney can investigate the evidence against you and interview witnesses for the prosecution and who could help in your defense. This can enable him to develop a strong defense strategy that could result in the charges against you being dismissed or important evidence of the prosecution being suppressed.
- Investigator. In some cases, an attorney will hire an investigator trained to investigate the facts surrounding crimes and the criminal backgrounds of the prosecutor’s witnesses. This can help your attorney to refute these witness’ credibility and poke holes in the prosecutor’s case against you.
- Experts. Your attorney should have a network of experts he can use depending on the specific charges you face and the evidence the prosecution could plan to use against you. For example, an expert could be used to challenge the results of a blood alcohol content test or dispute DNA evidence if that is being used to show your guilt. Often prosecutors will use experts, and you would need your own expert to refute that person’s testimony and weaken the prosecutor’s case.
- Law and procedures. Your attorney will know the statutes and case law decided by judges that apply to your case. In addition, he will understand the procedural rules you must follow regarding pleadings that must be filed, the time period to file them, and other unwritten rules in the jurisdiction where your case is being heard. This knowledge is critical to achieving a good outcome and not inadvertently waiving an important defense you may have.
- Reality check. From reviewing the evidence against you, conducting his own investigation, and his experience, your attorney will be able to provide you with a reality check of what you can realistically expect if you take your case to trial or if you accept a plea agreement. This can help you make an informed decision about the outcome of your criminal case.
- Hidden costs. Your attorney can explain the hidden costs of pleading guilty, such as a permanent criminal record that could affect your ability to obtain a job, which you may not understand. Without an attorney, you may be more focused on the option of a shorter sentence rather than these long-term consequences that could be reduced through an aggressive defense of the charges against you.
Have you been charged with a crime? The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC understand the serious ramifications for your life, no matter what criminal charges you face. We thoroughly investigate our cases and aggressively defend all of our clients to achieve the best outcome possible. Call our Fairfax law office today to schedule your free case evaluation to get your questions answered and learn how we can assist you.
How does a felony criminal case work in Virginia?
Felonies are the most serious offenses that a person can be charged with committing in Virginia. A felony conviction can result in a lengthy prison sentence and large fines as well as a permanent criminal record. In addition, there are more court hearings in a felony case than when a person is charged with a misdemeanor. If you have been charged with a felony, you need to understand how the criminal process works so that you know what to expect.
How a Felony Prosecution Begins in Virginia
A felony prosecution begins in one of two ways: either an arrest warrant or indictment is issued. A judge—usually a magistrate—would issue an arrest warrant, and the warrant would need to be based on probable cause that a crime was committed. An indictment would be issued by a grand jury of the circuit court.
A grand jury is comprised of five to eight citizens who meet approximately once a month. The prosecutor or police officer often presents a criminal case to the grand jury by advising them of the evidence that the Commonwealth has against the accused person. In almost all cases, the grand jury decides to issue an indictment. The arrest warrant or indictment authorizes the police officer to arrest the individual accused of committing a crime.
Hearings That You Can Expect in a Felony Criminal Case
A felony case will begin in district court and will then be transferred to circuit court. In general, the following hearings will be scheduled:
- Arraignment. An arraignment will be held at general district court or juvenile and domestic relations court and will often be in front of a magistrate. At this hearing, the judge or magistrate will advise the person of his right to an attorney and make a decision on setting bond, which is the amount that must be paid to be released from jail until the person’s trial.
- Preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is also held at a general district court or juvenile and domestic relations court. While it may seem like a trial, the purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the prosecution has presented the minimum level of evidence to establish probable cause to justify sending the case to circuit court. If the judge finds no probable cause, the case is dismissed. At this hearing, the attorney for the accused person will also have an opportunity to obtain discovery of evidence against the accused and discuss the case with the prosecutor. In some cases, a plea agreement is entered into at the preliminary hearing.
- Formal arraignment. If the judge finds probable cause, the case goes before a grand jury in circuit court, which decides whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed. The accused and his attorney do not attend this hearing. If the grand jury decides that the case should move forward, a formal arraignment or “term date” is scheduled where the formal charges are read and the person must enter his plea to the charges and exercises his right to ask for a jury trial if he wants one. A trial date is also set.
- Plea day. If the person waives his right to a preliminary hearing and enters into a plea agreement, his case would be scheduled for a plea day. At this hearing, the judge would question the person to be certain that the person is pleading guilty voluntarily. If he is, a sentencing date would be scheduled where the judge would issue a sentence.
- Trial. If the person pleads not guilty and does not enter into a plea agreement, his case will go to either a jury trial or a bench trial in front of the judge. At the end of the trial, the jury or judge will decide whether the accused person is guilty or innocent. If the case is decided by a jury and they find the person guilty, they will also decide his sentence.
- Appeal. If the person does not agree with the decision at his trial, he can try to appeal the case to the Virginia Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
The penalties you face for a felony conviction will depend on the crime you are convicted of and its classification under Virginia’s felony classification system. You could face a lengthy prison sentence, including for life, the death penalty for a capital murder conviction, and hefty fines.
If you are charged with any felony, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you build your defense, so that the charges can be dismissed or reduced to a less serious charge with fewer penalties. Call our office today to schedule your free consultation.
What can I expect to happen in my misdemeanor criminal case?
If you have been charged with a crime in Virginia, the process may seem confusing, and you probably do not know what to expect. While the court process will vary slightly depending on whether you were charged in Fairfax or another jurisdiction, the basic procedure is the same. Like in other states, there are two categories of crimes in Virginia: misdemeanors and felonies, which carry very different penalties.
Misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in jail, whereas you could face a lengthy prison sentence in a state penitentiary if you are convicted of a felony. The court procedures are also very different for misdemeanors and felonies. Here, we discuss what to expect if you are charged with a misdemeanor offense.
What Is the Arrest Procedure in Virginia?
The first step in a criminal case is charging a person with a crime. This is done through the issuance of a summons or a warrant. A warrant is issued by a judicial officer—often a magistrate—who makes a decision that there is probable cause to believe the person committed a crime. The warrant authorizes the police to arrest the person and bring him to court. If you are arrested on a warrant, you may need to post a bond to be released from jail. A bond is a written promise from you to return to court hearings and a payment of a certain amount that is forfeited if you violate the terms of your bond.
A summons is not issued by a judge or magistrate. Instead, the police officer issues it, and the summons will direct you to appear at court on a particular date at a certain time. Usually you are released without having to go to jail or post a bond.
Court Process in Misdemeanor Cases
A misdemeanor case is heard in general district court for adults and juvenile and domestic relations court for minors and adult cases that involve victims who are family members or minors. Here are the court hearings that you can expect:
- Arraignment. Your first hearing after being charged with a misdemeanor will be an arraignment—also known as an advisement—although some judges will skip this step and set a case for trial. You do not need to enter a plea or present witnesses at this hearing. The purpose is to advise you of the criminal charges, set a trial date, and determine whether or not you qualify for a public defender.
- Trial. All criminal trials in district court are bench trials, meaning that they are decided by a judge, not a jury. This hearing is the first opportunity for your attorney to talk to the prosecutor, the police officer, and any witnesses, and receive any discovery. If your case is not resolved by a plea agreement, it will most likely be continued and set for another trial date. At your trial, you will have the right to raise your defenses and present witnesses. At the end of the trial, the judge will find you either guilty or not guilty of the crime you are charged of committing.
- Appeal to Circuit Court. If you are not happy with the result in district court, you have a right to appeal the decision to circuit court. This is different than a traditional appeal. Your case starts over again as if there had been no trial, and you have a right to a jury trial.
- Further appeals. If you disagree with the decision in circuit court, you can file an appeal with the Virginia Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. However, there is no trial, and neither court has to agree to allow your appeal. Appeals are generally only granted when the circuit court judge made a significant mistake.
What Are the Penalties That You Could Face?
Misdemeanors are classified into four classifications, with a Class 1 misdemeanor being the most serious. You could face the following penalties if convicted:
- Class 1. Up to 12 months in jail and a fine not to exceed $2,500
- Class 2. Up to 6 months in jail and a fine of not more than $1,000
- Class 3. Fine not to exceed $500
- Class 4. Fine not to exceed $250
No matter what classification of misdemeanor you are convicted of, you will have a permanent criminal record that can affect other aspects of your life long after you complete your sentence. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you may be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. Start an online chat today to schedule your free case evaluation to learn how our criminal defense team may be able to help you.