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.
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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 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 the 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.
What do I do on my court date in Fairfax County?
Appearing in court is often stressful, because you either have something financial to gain or lose, or your freedom is in jeopardy. Compounded by the stressful nature of court-related appearances is the lack of information about what you should do when you arrive. Often times, people come in without any prior experience at the courthouse and are faced with a sprawling building that contains numerous offices and courtrooms. Below are some helpful tips to keep in mind when you prepare yourself to appear in the Fairfax County Courthouse. While much of this information can also be used for other courthouses in Virginia, they do differ in terms of how and where information can be found.
Before Arriving at the Courthouse
Before you get to the courthouse, you need to check whatever paperwork you have. If you’ve been served with a lawsuit, cited with a ticket, issued a warrant, or subpoenaed for a case, each of those documents will contain the case number, the court in which you are to appear, the time and date of the hearing, and the location of the courthouse. Review that information carefully so you know whether you need to be in the General District Court (GDC), Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR), or Circuit Court (CC).
In Fairfax County, The GDC is divided into civil, criminal, and traffic divisions, which are on different floors and different areas of the courthouse. Traffic cases are on the first, and sometimes, the second floor. Civil and criminal cases are on the second floor, as well. The JDR court has all the courtrooms in one place on the 3rd floor. And, CC has courtrooms on the fourth and fifth floors, but also has informational and clerks’ offices on the third and fourth floors of the courthouse.
The Day of Court
When you arrive at court be sure to come early, especially to the Fairfax County Courthouse. Since most cases begin between 9 and 10 a.m., there is often a huge flood of people coming into the courthouse at the same time. Additionally, in each courthouse you have to submit to some level of search, including taking off shoes, belts, jackets, unpacking electronics, and more. To have sufficient time to get through the doors and security checkpoints with everyone, leave at least a 30 minute window from the time you walk up to the courthouse and the time of your hearing.
How to Locate the Courtroom
Once you are on the right floor, you should consult the electronic screens to locate the appropriate courtroom. Those screens will only show the cases heard in that particular court. For example, if you’re near the traffic courtrooms on the first floor, you will only see GDC traffic cases. If you’re on the fourth or fifth floor, you’ll only see CC cases (civil and criminal).
If you can’t find your name on the screens, you may be in the wrong place, or there may be another issue. Do NOT leave the court if you cannot find your name on the screen. First, double check your paperwork to make sure you are in the correct courthouse and court. Second, if you believe you are in the right place, but your name is not on the board, you should go to the office of the Clerk of the Court in which you are supposed to appear. They will then help you identify if you are in the right place, and if you are, why your name isn’t showing up.
Inside the Courtroom
Once you’ve found the courtroom, you should take a seat inside. Though your paperwork may say your hearing starts at a specific time, that does not mean your case will be heard precisely at that time. The time listed on your paperwork tells what time court begins, but the order in which the cases are called will vary by the judge and cases before the court. Be sure you remain in the courtroom and listen carefully for your name. If you are not in the courtroom when your name is called, your case may be resolved in your absence.
The one exception to waiting inside the courtroom is in JDR. In JDR, the judges call one case at a time. And, because of the sensitive nature of JDR cases, those courtrooms are not held open to the general public. This means you will need to wait outside the courtroom and wait for your case to be called.
When the Judge Calls your Case
Once your case is called, you should inform the judge you are there by standing and saying you are present. The judge may give you additional instructions at that time. You should listen carefully to whatever the judge tells you and act accordingly. If you do not understand something the judge says, be sure to say that, and the judge will clarify what you are supposed to do.
How to Dress for Court
When dressing for court, consider the situation. While most places are jeans and t-shirt friendly in our modern culture, courthouses are a more formal place. If you are going before the judge, you need to be properly attired. Wearing slacks, dress shoes, and a collared shirt are a minimum. Do NOT wear graphic t-shirts, sandals or tennis shoes, or shorts to court. Also make sure you shower, comb your hair, brush your teeth, and otherwise present yourself in the best light possible.
How to Speak in the Courtroom
When talking to the judge, make sure you speak respectfully. You should address them as “Your Honor” or “Judge.” Do not interrupt the judge while he or she is talking. But, if you do not understand something or have a question, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or more information once the judge has finished speaking. Judges are people too, and they handle a lot of cases on a daily basis. While you may only have one case to be heard, they have many and frequently spend the entire day on the bench listening to different cases. Because of this, they appreciate it when you are respectful and listen carefully to their instructions.
Should you have additional questions regarding your court date and how to prepare, please call the attorneys at our Fairfax law office today, and we will be happy to answer your questions.
What kind of lawyer do I need?
One of the toughest decisions a person with a legal problem has to make is figuring out what kind of lawyer they need. Getting the right type of lawyer makes a huge difference in the quality of legal representation received. The problem, however, is that there a number of different areas of law, and there are also different types of legal work. Below I discuss some considerations you should take into account to make sure you find a lawyer that fits your needs.
Transactional Attorneys vs. Litigators
To start, do you have a question about planning or a question about fighting something in court or in administrative hearings? Lawyers who work on estate plans, business plans, and contract drafting are transactional attorneys. They have expertise in drafting documents for businesses and individuals that cover a wide variety of situations before a problem arises or in anticipation of a future problem. Wills and trusts are a classic example of documents that transactional lawyers are well-suited to prepare.
If a problem has arisen, and you have a court date or a court date will soon be set, you need a litigator. Litigators are lawyers who go to court on a daily or weekly basis to present arguments to judges. Litigators are also lawyers who work on negotiating settlements in and out of court. For example, if you’ve been in a car accident, your case may settle out of court due to a settlement agreement, or it may go to trial because the amount desired by the injured party is not being offered by the party that caused the injury. In either event, a litigator is the right type of lawyer for that situation.
Determine the Practice Area
Once you’ve determined the type of lawyer you need, you need to make sure you find a lawyer who is familiar with the particular area or areas of law into which your problem falls. For example, if you’ve been charged with a criminal charge, you do not want to hire a lawyer who only practices in contract disputes or business litigation. This is because today’s legal system is heavily regulated by laws passed by federal and state legislators. As a result, attorneys often specialize in one or a few areas of law. It is highly unlikely that you will find a lawyer who practices in all the civil and all the criminal areas of law because it is too difficult to keep up with all of the changes in each area of the law.
Learn About Our Practice Areas +
Attorney and Law Firm Experience
Another consideration when choosing a lawyer is experience. However, experience isn’t merely the number of years a lawyer has been in practice. Because the legal landscape changes quickly due to governmental regulation and court opinions, lawyers must keep up with the changes. It is important to find attorneys who not only have experience in the particular area of law your issue deals with, but who also maintain knowledge of the changes in that area.
Greenspun Shapiro’s Attorneys
At Greenspun Shapiro PC we are litigators. Members of our firm regularly appear in courts throughout the Northern Virginia area, which includes the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia (federal courts), the Counties of Stafford, Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax, and Arlington, the Cities of Falls Church, Fairfax, and Alexandria, and the Towns of Herndon and Vienna. We also regularly handle medical malpractice, personal injury, contract dispute, and other civil torts, such as defamation, intentional assaults and injuries, and criminal cases. And, we regularly attend a wide range of continuing legal education courses to keep up with the changes in the areas we practice. Moreover, if we do not handle a particular area of law, our goal is to connect you with someone who can. If you have a legal question or may need a litigator, do not hesitate to call our Fairfax law office. We are always happy to answer questions, and if we cannot help, we probably know someone who can.
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What to Do If There is a Warrant for Your Arrest in Virginia
If you have a warrant out for your arrest, here’s how a criminal defense lawyer can help you. Contact us today to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
A person can become aware of a charge against them many different ways. The most common ways are:
- being arrested
- being issued a summons on the spot.
Arrests take place for nearly all felonies at the time they are committed, if possible, and for some misdemeanors, such as DUI/DWI and public intoxication. A summons, or what most people think of as a ticket, is usually issued for speeding, other traffic infractions, reckless driving, and minor drug possession offenses. In other cases, a person may not be accused of a crime until hours, days, or weeks after the alleged crime occurred.
When a person is not arrested or issued a summons at the time of the offense, the police will need an arrest warrant to take the suspect into custody. Police officers are not required to disclose whether a warrant has been issued for a suspect. However, in some cases, the police do disclose this information, or a person may otherwise learn that he or she is wanted by a particular jurisdiction.
Step 1: Contact Our Trusted Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you learn that you are wanted by a jurisdiction, you should first contact a criminal defense lawyer who practices in that area to ensure your rights are fully protected and you have the best defense moving forward.
Our trusted attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC can practice in all Northern Virginia jurisdictions, as well as federal court:
- Fairfax City
- Fairfax County
- Falls Church
- Loudoun County
- Prince William County
Having a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with your circumstances can give you an idea of whether you will be released or held in jail, based on the specific circumstances of your case. Familiarity with the jurisdiction will also be important, as each county’s jail processing and bond procedures differ. Contacting a criminal defense lawyer at Greenspun Shapiro PC is the best thing you can do because we:
- Will immediately start working on your defense
- Are experienced negotiating with police and prosecutors
- Are dedicated to helping people accused of crimes obtain the best possible outcomes to their cases.
Step 2: Turn Yourself into the Correct Jurisdiction
After speaking with a criminal defense lawyer, the next step is typically to turn yourself into the jurisdiction in which you are wanted. Going to a different jurisdiction may delay your release. If a suspect is outside the jurisdiction that issued the warrant, the judge likely will not set a bond. Instead, a transportation order will be issued, and the suspect will be transported to the jurisdiction in which the charges are pending before release is addressed. If you are wanted out-of-state, you should contact criminal defense lawyers in both states to determine what needs to be done.
For the final two steps to take if you have a warrant out for your arrest, be sure to look for the second part of this blog series that will be published soon.
Step 3: Prepare for Bond
Depending on the type of charges and other factors, a magistrate may be able to set bond. However, some charges are considered particularly dangerous, such as:
Those charges have a presumption against release, so a magistrate judge will not have the option to set bond. If the magistrate does not, or cannot, set bond, it will be important to have a criminal defense lawyer ready to file a bond motion and family or friends ready to help provide support by posting the bond or hiring a bondsman (Bondsman typically charge a fee of 10% of the total bond, which is not refundable).
Step 4: Do Not Make Verbal or Written Statements
No matter whether you are released immediately or held, it is important that you do not make any verbal or written disclosures to anyone during this process. Anything stated to a police officer, or even a fellow inmate, could potentially be used against you. It is vital that no case-related statements be made over jail phones. Many of the phones available to inmates in Northern Virginia’s jails are recorded by the jail and reviewed by prosecutors and law enforcement. This can then become evidence in the government’s case.
Seek the Legal Help of a Criminal Defense Lawyer
If it’s time to contact an attorney, call the trusted Fairfax criminal defense lawyer at Greenspun Shapiro PC by calling 703-352-0100 or by emailing us using the online contact form. Our attorneys provide superior legal services to our clients in Fairfax and throughout Virginia.
Is it better to settle a personal injury lawsuits rather than see it through trial?
This is a good question that is rather complex to answer because, quite simply, it will depend on various factors, including you, your case and the settlement offer that is on the table. In general, however, some of the situations in which accepting a settlement offer may be a better option than seeing a case through trial include (but are not limited to) when:
- A fair settlement offer has been made and prolonging the case may cost you more than it may be worth.
- You are ready to put the case, the accident and your injuries behind you so you can move on with your life.
- There may be some serious risks associated with winning a favorable verdict from a trial.
What kind of compensation can I expect from my personal injury case?
Again, we can’t give you a specific answer about compensation for personal injury lawsuits without reviewing the particular details of a case. Some of the factors, however, that may contribute to greater compensation in personal injury lawsuits can include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- More severe injuries having been sustained by the plaintiff
- Irreversible impairments having been sustained by the plaintiff
- More damage having been incurred to the plaintiff’s property
- A pattern of negligence having been displayed by the defendant.
For a better understanding of the potential compensation for your personal injury case, give us a call at (703) 352-0100 so we can discuss your specific situation.
How long do I have to file a personal injury claim?
This is a good and important question to ask when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. The length of time in which you have to file personal injury lawsuits is known as the statute of limitations for these cases, and this time frame varies from state to state.
In the state of Virginia, there is a two-year statute of limitations for filing personal injury lawsuits. This means that, in order for injured people to seek compensation through personal injury lawsuits, these cases must be filed within two years of the date:
- On which the accident or incident that caused the personal injuries occurred; or
- On which the personal injuries were diagnosed or discovered.
Because these time frames are very strict, it’s best for injured people to move forward with filing personal injury lawsuits as soon as they can to avoid running out the statute of limitations.
How quickly are personal injury lawsuits resolved?
We can’t really answer this one without reviewing the details of a particular case. That being stated, however, some of the factors that may end up complicating personal injury lawsuits and, consequently, prolonging a resolution to these cases include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- More severe injuries (that may need to be established through expert witness testimony)
- More complicated claims of negligence (For instance, product liability and medical malpractice cases tend to be far more complicated than other types of personal injury lawsuits.)
- Corporate or government defendants (who tend to have legal teams ready to fight negligence allegations).
While you can easily get a more specific answer regarding your case by contacting Greenspun Shapiro, PC today, what you can take away from this is that you should generally expect personal injury lawsuits to take some time to resolve.
What if I may have played a role in causing the accident and/or injuries?
When people have somehow contributed to the accident or incident that led to their injuries, it may still be possible to pursue personal injury lawsuits, depending (of course) on the details of the incident and case. In general, in fact, as long as another party was more negligent that you were in the incident, you may still be able to move forward with a case and seek compensation for your injuries and losses.
That being said, however, whether or not it is worth it to you to move forward with a legal claim can depend on whether you may obtain sufficient compensation from this effort. To receive more specific info regarding this, contact a Fairfax personal injury attorney at Greenspun Shapiro, PC.
For some more answers to common questions about personal injury lawsuits, be sure to check out the upcoming second and third parts of this blog series!
What are some common examples of negligence in personal injury lawsuits?
First, it’s important to define the term negligence, as it’s the general basis of personal injury lawsuits. Simply put, negligence is the failure of one party to use reasonable care when performing some action and, consequently, causing damage, accidents and/or injuries. Here, “reasonable care” typically means the level of care that a reasonable person would have exerted in the same situation or under similar circumstances.
Given this, some examples of negligence can include (but are not exclusively limited to):
- Drunk driving, distracted driving and other types of driver error that cause motor vehicle accidents
- Failure to keep premises safe and, in turn, causing slip and fall accidents
- Failure to properly diagnose a medical condition and, in turn, causing health complications.
There are countless other examples of negligence in these cases, so it’s best to consult with an experienced attorney to find out more regarding your accident and whether you may have a viable personal injury claim.