If you are being charged with a Criminal Offense for the first time in Virginia, the experience can seem daunting and intimidating. You will want to have an attorney on your side who understands your stress, and who understands the law, the courts and the process. Below is some information about the process, and what to expect. If you have any question about your criminal case in Virginia, call our Criminal Defense Attorneys and we are happy to give you a free consultation about your case and what we can do for you. Our goal is to get you the best result possible, and you keep you informed throughout the process.
Basics of the Virginia Criminal Court System
Each jurisdiction in Virginia has 3 courts that hear criminal cases, depending on the type of case. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) Court hears misdemeanors involving juveniles or crimes involving family members. The JDR Court also hears the early part of felonies involving the same subject. The General District Court (GDC) hears all other misdemeanors, and the early part of other felony cases. The Circuit Court hears the felony trials after they have been through a Preliminary Hearing in the GDC or JDR, and hears misdemeanor appeals.
If you are charged with a crime, there a few possible situations regarding your pre-trial status. For certain crimes, you may be issued a Summons, which tells when you are to report to Court. In that case, you won’t need to worry about Bond. If you are arrested and booked, one of your first stops will be the local Magistrate Judge, who will make the initial determination on if you are granted Bond. If the Magistrate gives you Bond, there may be certain conditions placed on your release. If the Magistrate denies you bond, you will be held in Jail. That is not the end of the road though. Your attorney will be able to file a subsequent Bond motion in the GDC or JDR Court, and if that fails, can appeal the decision to the Circuit Court.
Virginia Felonies vs. Misdemeanors
What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor? Simply put: felonies are more serious. Felonies carry sentences over one year. They also can deprive you of your rights, at least temporarily, such as your right to vote or posses firearms. Misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of one year, and do not deprive you of your rights, with the exception of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, which will prohibit you from possessing firearms.
Virginia Misdemeanor Process
Misdemeanors are tried entirely in the GDC or JDR Court, whichever is appropriate. You do not have a right to a Jury Trial in this cases initially. However, you have an absolute right to appeal a conviction in GDC or JDR, and can demand a Jury Trial in the Circuit Court when you do so.
When preparing for your trial, your attorney will request Discovery, which is the information the Commonwealth has for your case. Your attorney will use this information to request a dismissal, discuss a plea, or prepare for trial depending on your goals and the facts of the case.
If there is a Trial, the Commonwealth will put on their evidence first. They have the burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty. After the Commonwealth puts on their case, your attorney will have the opportunity to put on any evidence that may be appropriate. After that, both sides will argue to the Judge. If the Judge finds you Not Guilty – Great! You are done. If you are found Guilty, then there will be some more argument about sentencing. At this point you will want to talk to your attorney about appealing your case.
Virginia Felony Process
The felony process is a little more involved. Your attorney will ask for Discovery. The first hearing in your case will be a Preliminary Hearing the GDC or the JDR Court. That hearing is simply to determine if there is Probable Cause for your case to go forward in the Circuit Court. This is a very low bar. However this hearing is useful for two purposes. First, it can serve as a natural point to have plea discussions, to avoid having unnecessary hearings. Second, if you are taking your case to trial, the Preliminary Hearing is a good opportunity to preview some of the Commonwealth’s evidence, hear what their witnesses have to say, and cross examine them learn more information.
The Trial will happen in the Circuit Court, where you can choose a Judge or a Jury Trial. If you choose a Jury Trial, you can still request to have the Judge determine sentencing. This can be useful because the Judge simply has more discretion in how you are sentenced.
Types of Resolutions
If you don’t want to go to trial for any number of reasons, there are ways to resolve many cases. Depending on the facts an evidence, it may be possible to talk to the prosecutor about a dismissal if the facts are appropriate. Sometimes, a resolution may involve pleading guilty to one or more charge, in exchange for others being dismissed. For felony charges, plea offers may include a reduction to a less serious misdemeanor. There is also something called a Deferred Disposition, where the Judge will note a finding of “facts sufficient” to find you Guilty. But, the Judge will not actually find you guilty and enter a guilty judgment that day. Instead, there will be some terms, to include staying out of trouble for some period of time (commonly one year), reporting to probation, or community service. At the completion of this period, your charge will be dismissed. Some charges have specific resolutions available for a first time criminal offense.
Hire a Lawyer for Your First Offense Criminal Charge
If you have been charged with a crime in Virginia, it is important to hire a lawyer who knows the courts, knows the law, and knows the process. You also want an attorney who will represent you as an individual, learn about your concerns, and explain the process to you. Contact our Criminal Defense Lawyers to learn how we can help you.