If you have been charged with a crime, attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson provides some insights into what you can expect from a Virginia criminal charge.

Facing Criminal Charges in Virginia

When you left the house this morning, surely you didn’t expect to be arrested for a crime. Sirens, lights, handcuffs—the entire process was undoubtedly one of the most stressful events in your life. You breathe a sigh of relief because at least you were released on a citation, but now you’re facing misdemeanor criminal charges in Virginia. Now what?

Having a criminal conviction on your criminal record can have a lasting effect on your life. This is why one of the first things you should do if ever charged with a Virginia crime is to contact a criminal defense attorney.

Overview of Virginia Criminal Offenses

While anything short of making the entire situation disappear won’t make you feel better, knowing what to expect about the legal process ahead of you might relieve some of the stress you’re experiencing. In Virginia, offenses such as DUI, simple assault, solicitation of prostitution, and hit and run are all charged as misdemeanors, which means they carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Under Virginia Code, there are four categories of misdemeanor crimes. They range from Class 1, which is the most serious misdemeanor offense, to Class 4, which includes the least serious offenses.

Misdemeanor crimes can also be punishable by fines, which range from $250 to $2,500. Even though misdemeanor charges may sound innocent, they are not. A misdemeanor conviction can become part of an individual’s permanent criminal record.

However, in addition to misdemeanors, individuals can also face felony charges. A felony offense is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. Unlike misdemeanors, which are punishable by jail time, felony offenses are punishable by a prison sentence in a state or federal prison for at least a year. Potential fines for a felony conviction can go up to $100,000.

Felony crimes can also range from Class 1 felonies, the most severe crimes, to Class 6, which includes the least serious felonies. The penalty for most severe felonies, such as capital mured, can be life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Virginia law defines capital murder as the deliberate, premeditated, and willful killing of an individual person under certain circumstances. For example, if more than one individual was killed in one criminal act, if the murder occurred during a robbery or attempted robbery, as well as the killing of a specified law enforcement officer, can be considered capital murder.

Virginia Criminal Case Procedure

The next important step in the process is arraignment. At the arraignment, you and your attorney will go before a judge who will inform you of the specific charges filed against you. During this stage, you will enter a plea of not guilty. If you plead guilty at arraignment, you skip all of the other steps in the criminal process and go straight to the sentencing phase.

It is extremely rare for someone to enter a guilty plea at arraignment, and Virginia criminal defense lawyers should have a good reason for advising their client to do so. After you plead not guilty, your case continues to the next phase.

During the pre-trial phase, you and your attorney will work together to build your defense. You will receive discovery from the government and your attorney will conduct independent investigations into what happened. Periodically, you will have to go before a judge for a status hearing. These hearings keep the judge up to date about where the defense and government are in their case preparation.

The time spent in the pre-trial phase is largely dependent on the facts of your case. The more complicated the facts of your case, the longer this phase will last. During this phase, your attorney may also file pre-trial motions. These motions are usually filed as a chance to get some of the government’s evidence against you dismissed. Additionally, the government may offer you plea bargains at this step in the litigation. Whether you should take the plea bargain is entirely your decision, but your attorney will help guide your decision. Assuming you don’t take a plea offer, the next step in the criminal process is trial.

At trial, the government bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime you are charged with. What this means is that the government has the sole responsibility of presenting evidence and persuading the finder of fact that you are guilty. The finder of fact may be a jury or a judge depending on your case.

Do You Have to Testify at Trial?

You do not have to testify at trial. You have an absolute constitutional right not to incriminate yourself, and the government is not allowed to argue your guilt based on your silence. Whether you should testify at trial is solely your decision. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney will help you weigh the risks and benefits of testifying.

In the unfortunate event that you are found guilty at trial, the next step in the process is the sentencing phase. Sentencing will usually happen on the same day as the trial. Similar to trial, the government will present evidence during sentencing to persuade the judge to give you a particular sentence. Sentencing is as important as the trial phase, and sometimes more so. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side at this phase can mean the difference between freedom and incarceration.

How Can a Criminal Law Attorney Help?

While we can never guarantee the outcome of a case, we can guarantee you peace of mind in knowing that you have an experienced attorney guiding you through the entire criminal process.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony in Virginia, contact attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson for a full consultation.