Your Virginia Criminal Law Questions Answered
After being charged with a crime in Virginia, most people have many concerns. What do I do now? Do I have any options? Do I need a lawyer? How do I find the right lawyer? Our experienced criminal defense attorneys offer their take on these questions and many more to help you understand more about your rights and options under the law. Don’t see your question here? Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Call our Fairfax office at (703) 352-0100, or fill out our online contact form today.
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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 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 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.