WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN ARRESTED
If you can make a bond (money to secure your release), then you will be released from jail, but only if you have no other holds. (A hold is a detainer placed on you by another governmental agency which requires you be held pending clearance of the hold). If you cannot make a bond (or do not qualify for pretrial release), then you will remain in jail while your case is pending or until your attorney can present a bond motion to the Court.
HOW DO I CHOSE AN ATTORNEY
Choosing an attorney may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make. As such, you should do so carefully. Do not fall for the marketing ploys that some attorneys unfortunately use in trying to sign-up clients. In the past, potential clients relied on family and friends for referrals. Referrals were/are important because someone who has actually used an attorney can give you a personal recommendation based on their experience with that particular attorney. If you can not get a personal recommendation or referral for an attorney, use the internet to find an attorney but meet the attorney in person. You should never hire an attorney based on his/her website or based on a five minute conversation over the phone. Go to that attorney’s office and personally meet with them. If an attorney refuses to meet with you until you have retained them or has his paralegal meet with you, run. If an attorney meets with you and uses scare tactics to get you to hire them, run. An attorney should go over the facts of your case with you and give you a fair assessment of your possible defenses. Honesty is what you need when facing criminal charges. An attorney who promises you or guarantees you a particular outcome is being dishonest and simply is trying to get you as a client. When facing criminal charges, a client is at their most vulnerable, and unscurpolus attorneys can take advantage of this by saying what they believe you want to hear. You need to be an educated consumer. If an attorney guarantees you a certain outcome, or states that they know the Judge, Prosecutor and/or Officer involved in your case as if to suggest that they have a special relationship with these people, run. In the end, trust your gut after meeting with an attorney.
IF YOU ARE FREE ON BOND
In many Courts if you have been able to make a bond, then you will be expected to hire an attorney to represent you. After your release, some jurisdictions will require you to attend an arraignment hearing. At the arraignment, the Judge will inform you of your right to have an attorney, the nature of your charge/s and the possible punishment you could receive if found guilty. The Judge will then set your case for a trial if you are charged with a misdemeanor or a preliminary hearing if you are charged with a felony.
WHAT IS A PRELIMINARY HEARING?
A preliminary hearing in Virginia is a hearing that is held in the General District Court when a person is accused of a felony. The preliminary hearing determines whether probable cause exists for bringing the defendant to trial. This hearing consists of witness testimony and presentation of evidence. The defendant has the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution through cross examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, and through the calling of their own witnesses and presentation of evidence.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT LEVELS OF OFFENSES?
In Virginia, criminal offenses are prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors range from Class 4 misdemeanors up to the highest misdemeanor which is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Likewise, felonies range from Class 6 to Class 1 felonies. The possible ranges of punishment are as follows:
The punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are:
- For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
- For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.
- For Class 3 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $500.
- For Class 4 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $250.
The punishments for conviction of a felony are:
- For Class 1 felonies, death, if the person so convicted was 18 years of age or older at the time of the offense and is not determined to be mentally retarded pursuant to § 19.2-264.3:1.1, or imprisonment for life and, subject to subdivision (g), a fine of not more than $100,000. If the person was under 18 years of age at the time of the offense or is determined to be mentally retarded pursuant to § 19.2-264.3:1.1, the punishment shall be imprisonment for life and, subject to subdivision (g), a fine of not more than $100,000.
- For Class 2 felonies, imprisonment for life or for any term not less than 20 years and, subject to subdivision (g), a fine of not more than $100,000.
- For Class 3 felonies, a term of imprisonment of not less than five years nor more than 20 years and, subject to subdivision (g), a fine of not more than $100,000.
- For Class 4 felonies, a term of imprisonment of not less than two years nor more than 10 years and, subject to subdivision (g), a fine of not more than $100,000.
- For Class 5 felonies, a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than 10 years, or in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
- For Class 6 felonies, a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years, or in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I GO TO COURT?
On your court date, you should go directly to the court. Each court posts a docket which lists the name of each defendant who has a court hearing on that day and their assigned courtroom. You must be in court on the day and time instructed or the court may forfeit your bond and issue a warrant for your arrest. (Bond forfeiture means that you lose the money that you have posted as a guaranty to the court that you would appear on the setting date.)
HOW MUCH WILL MY LEGAL DEFENSE COST?
One of the first questions most clients have when facing criminal charges is how much their defense will cost. Of course, the answer depends on the circumstances of your case and the quality of the defense team. Usually, an attorney will be able to quote you a fee after an initial consultation.
IN A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASE, CAN AN INJURED SPOUSE “DROP” THE CHARGES?
No. The prosecutor decides whether to drop the charge/s. In a domestic violence case, it is the Commonwealth of Virginia against the offending party and the State of Virginia through its prosecutors, decide how the charges will be dealt with. Of course, an experienced defense attorney can impact how a particular case will be handled.
SHOULD I HIRE A FORMER PROSECUTOR TO REPRESENT ME?
At first, this sounds like a good idea. However, the number of ex-prosecutors that are now defense attorneys is extremely high in Northern Virginia. Therefore, you really gain no advantage in hiring a former prosecutor. The prosecutor assigned to your case will not treat you favorably simply because you hired a former prosecutor to represent you. Prosecutors evaluate their cases based on the facts of the case and the strength of your possible defenses. Also, the caliber of your attorney matters. Prosecutors know which attorneys will actually go to trial and which attorneys will not. So don’t put to much value on an attorney who simply believes that his past position as a former prosecutor gives him an advantage over other experienced attorneys.