Posting bail/bond allows a defendant to get out of custody while they await their court date. As explained by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, the purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant meets their obligation to appear at court hearings and their trial.
No. Bail is not a fine. Indeed, bail/bond is not supposed to be used as a punishment in Virginia. When the criminal case is over, bail money will be returned to the party who posted it—minus any applicable processing fees.
Although you may hear the terms used interchangeably, bail and bond refer to two different things. Bail is the money a defendant must post for their release from custody. Bond is money posted by a third party—usually a company—where the defendant uses collateral to obtain the full funds that they need to meet bail.
A judge will set bail based on many different factors, including the severity of the alleged offense and the likelihood that the defendant will miss future court dates. Bail amounts can vary widely.
It is sometimes possible to get bail reduced. In Virginia, defendants have the right to request a bail reduction hearing. Your defense attorney can help you prepare a strong, compelling motion to reduce bail.
After a defendant is convicted of or pleads guilty to a criminal offense, a judge must determine the appropriate punishment. This is known as the sentencing stage of the criminal justice process.
Under Commonwealth law, the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC) is the judicial branch agency tasked with developing and implementing basic sentencing guidelines. Sentences vary based on many different factors, including the particular charge and the defendant’s prior history of misconduct, or lack thereof.
It depends on the case. With less severe charges, sentencing usually occurs immediately after a guilty plea or conviction is entered. However, in other cases, a judge may schedule a sentencing hearing at a later date. Additional information and testimony may be solicited to determine the proper sentence.
Defendants can raise many different mitigating factors. Among other things, a defendant can point to their lack of criminal record, positive contributions to the community, and their regret and remorse for committing the offense.
Preparing for sentencing is a key part of building an effective defense strategy. Your Virginia criminal defense attorney can help you put together a case to get the most lenient sentence possible. Do not rely on the court to impose a fair sentence on its own. It is crucial that defendants make a proactive argument to get a lighter sentence.
As defined by the Department of Justice (DOJ), a pre-trial motion is an official request filed by either the prosecutor or defense lawyer. In this type of motion, a party to a case asks the court to weigh in on an important procedural issue.
As a general rule, pre-trial motions are used to raise procedural matters. For example, a defense attorney can use a pre-trial motion to bring up issues pertaining to where the case is going to be heard and what types of evidence will be allowed. In other words, a pre-trial motion is a tool that is used to set certain boundaries in the case. When used effectively, they make it far easier to raise a successful defense.
Pre-trial motions come in a wide range of different forms. Some of the most notable examples include:
- A motion to dismiss;
- A motion to suppress physical evidence or witness testimony;
- A motion to change venue; and
- A motion to release evidence.
Pre-trial motions are a key aspect of raising a successful defense. Whether you are responding to motions submitted by the prosecution or bringing up your own pre-trial issues, a Virginia defense lawyer will help you put together the strongest possible case.
Classification of Criminal Charges
Criminal charges are covered by different classifications based on their level of severity. Beyond being divided into misdemeanors and felonies, there are also several subcategories of criminal charges in Virginia.
Under Virginia law (Code of Virginia § 18.2-9), criminal charges are classified into one of ten categories. There are six types of felonies (ranging from Class 1 to Class 6) and four types of misdemeanors (ranging from Class 1 to Class 4).
Classification matters. The classification of a criminal offense will make a major difference in terms of punishment and sentencing. The consequences for the most serious type of crime in Virginia (Class 1 felony) are far more severe than those for the lowest level of offense (Class 4 misdemeanor).
Yes—in some cases, prosecutors will agree to reduce charges to a lower classification. Whether this is an option in your case depends on the specific nature of the case. If you are considering negotiating a plea bargain for a reduced charge, you need an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney on your side. Your lawyer will help you find the best way forward. Classification is just one of many issues that should be considered in your defense.
Sometimes known as a ‘trial before a trial’, a preliminary hearing is one of the most important stages in a criminal case. During the hearing, a judge will determine if the defendant should be forced to stand trial at all.
A preliminary hearing usually takes place relatively soon after an arrest is made and charges are filed. If you pleaded not guilty at your initial appearance, a preliminary hearing may be scheduled to determine if the prosecution has enough evidence to move forward with the case.
No, not necessarily. For minor misdemeanor offenses, there may not be a preliminary hearing scheduled at all. However, under Virginia law (Code of Virginia § 19.2-218), all defendants who are facing felony charges have a right to a preliminary hearing.
You should consult with an experienced Virginia defense attorney before the preliminary hearing stage of your process. An attorney will make sure that your case is fully prepared for the hearing. In some cases, it may be possible to get the charges dropped at the preliminary hearing stage. In other cases, a preliminary hearing is your first real opportunity to get a look at the prosecution’s case.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution creates important rights and protections in both civil and criminal proceedings. Among other things, the 5th Amendment prohibits the state from requiring you to testify against yourself at a criminal trial.
Under the Fifth Amendment, individuals are granted several legal rights. To start, the Fifth Amendment guarantees every person the right to a fair trial. Next, you have a right against self-incrimination. You are allowed to remain silent—both while being questioned by police and during a criminal trial. Finally, the 5th Amendment’s Double Jeopardy clause prevents the government from charging you with the same crime twice.
No. Many people are understandably worried that they will be penalized for invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. You have the right to plead the Fifth—and avoid taking the stand—without it being used against you as evidence of guilt.
If you believe that your constitutional rights were violated, you should call a defense lawyer right away. A Fifth Amendment violation could be grounds to get evidence thrown out of court or even to get a new trial. As an example, if you were denied a fair trial, the proceedings may be deemed illegitimate.
Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement and other government authorities. Illegally obtained evidence should never be used against you in a criminal trial.
The most important thing to know about the 4th Amendment is that it is your constitutional protection against an unreasonable search and/or an unreasonable seizure. Though there are some exceptions, a warrant from a judge is needed for most searches.
Were you subject to an illegal search? If so, you may be wondering what happens now. In most cases, defendants can use the exclusionary rule to get unlawfully obtained evidence thrown out of court. Prosecutors should not be allowed to use the fruits of an illegal search.
Yes. Although it can be challenging, you have a right to seek the recovery of property after an improper and unreasonable seizure.
Virginia prosecutors often fight to keep as much evidence as possible in court—even if the evidence was obtained in an illegal manner. It is crucial that all evidence is evaluated. Your defense attorney will take proactive, aggressive steps to protect your rights and keep unlawful evidence out of your case.
Unreasonable Search and Seizure
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by police and other government agencies. Law enforcement needs probable cause to conduct a search or seize your property.
Broadly defined, an unreasonable search and seizure is a one conducted by law enforcement without the proper warrant or without probable cause. There is an enormous, complex body of case law that determines the conditions under which a search may be conducted. If you believe you were subject to an illegal search, a Virginia defense lawyer can help.
As a general rule, law enforcement needs a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are some key exceptions. A warrantless search may still be legally valid if:
- You give consent for the search;
- The search is incident to an arrest; and/or
- Evidence of a crime is in plain view of the officers.
If you were the victim of an unlawful search, call a criminal defense attorney right away. Your lawyer will file a motion to exclude any ill-gotten evidence from a criminal trial. Illegally obtained evidence should never be allowed into the courtroom.
Contained within the Fifth Amendment, the Constitution’s ‘Double Jeopardy’ clause prevents the government from charging a defendant with the exact same crime twice. It is important to understand when Double Jeopardy protections do—and do not—apply.
What is to stop the government from simply bringing charges over and over again until it gets the result it wants? The Double Jeopardy clause offers the answer. Prosecutors are constitutionally barred from bringing the exact same case a second time against a person who was acquitted of the charge.
Yes. A key limitation on Double Jeopardy protections is that prosecutors may be able bring multiple criminal charges related to the same underlying incident. The Double Jeopardy provision may not protect you against a wholly separate charge that stems from one larger alleged criminal incident.
Yes. There is a loophole to Double Jeopardy in certain cases. If you are accused of violating both federal and state law simultaneously, you could face charges from separate prosecutors. This is sometimes referred to as the dual sovereignty exception. In other words, Virginia Commonwealth prosecutors could theoretically bring charges against a defendant already subject to a federal charge.
Why Consult With an Attorney
If you were arrested and charged with a crime, it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your Virginia defense lawyer will protect your rights and help you secure your future.
Immediately. Police and prosecutors waste no time in building a case against a defendant. You do not want to fall behind in the process. Further, many defendants make mistakes in the hours or days following an arrest. Protect your rights by consulting with a Virginia defense lawyer right away.
Yes. To start, you should never plead guilty without first speaking to a top-rated defense lawyer. Let an attorney review the evidence against you. It may not be nearly as strong as you think. In addition, a defense attorney will make sure that you get the best plea bargain. Prosecutors may initially offer you a far less favorable deal that is reasonable.
A defense attorney will conduct a comprehensive, confidential review of your case. Among other things, this includes answering your questions, explaining your options, investigating the charges, and building a personalized defense strategy designed to protect your rights and secure your freedom.
As explained by the U.S. State Department, a security clearance is a special status granted by the federal government that allows certain individuals access to classified information and other restricted information. As a detailed background is required, a criminal charge could affect your security clearance.
Not automatically—but there may be serious ramifications. In completing an SF86 form, you will be required to disclose prior criminal charges. Indeed, disclosures are required even if an arrest did not result in a conviction. The implications of an arrest will depend on many different factors, including the age of the incident, the severity of the charges, and the disposition of the case.
Yes. With very few exceptions, security clearance holders have a responsibility to report any arrest or criminal citation. Failure to do so could, by itself, be grounds for revocation of a clearance. If you are preparing to make a disclosure, consult with a qualified defense lawyer.
An attorney will help you build a comprehensive defense against criminal allegations. If you hold a security clearance or are considering applying for one in the future, tell your lawyer. That issue must be considered when crafting a well-rounded defense.
Paying Fines and Costs
In Virginia, many criminal charges carry steep financial penalties. If you were arrested, it is imperative that you consider the potential financial consequences of a conviction or guilty plea.
There are a number of different ways to pay the fines and legal costs related to a criminal case. As a general rule, the most efficient way to make payments and view your financial obligations is through the Virginia Judiciary Online Payment System.
Yes. A proposed fine is not necessarily set in stone. In crafting a personalized legal defense, your attorney will consider the fines, costs, and other financial penalties associated with an alleged offense. Limiting your exposure to financial consequences is an important part of building a comprehensive legal defense.
It depends. That being said, the worst thing you can do is to simply ignore the issue and miss your payments. In Virginia, there are generally no sanctions for missed payments if you genuinely cannot pay and you notify the proper authorities. The Commonwealth offers a wide array of flexible payment plans to help people deal with the financial fallout of a criminal charge.
A plea bargain is an arrangement between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby a guilty plea is entered in exchange for reduced charges or a more lenient sentence. A significant percentage of criminal cases in Virginia end in plea bargains.
A plea bargain may be entered at virtually any stage of the criminal process. Most often, plea agreements are entered prior to a trial, usually after a preliminary hearing. Though, it is certainly not unheard of for a deal to be reached during a trial.
Yes. Under Virginia law (Code of Virginia § 19.2-254), judges have the legal authority to accept or reject a plea bargain. A judge could make the parties revise the agreement. That being said, these cases are very much an exception. Judges generally ratify a good faith plea agreement negotiated by the parties.
It depends. Please be sure to consult with a lawyer before you accept a plea agreement. It may be advisable to take a plea bargain in your case—but you need to be absolutely certain that you are getting the best possible arrangement. A Virginia defense attorney will make sure that your plea bargain fully protects your interests.
One of the first things people want to know after being arrested is what kind of jail time they might be facing. According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, nearly 70,000 Virginia residents are currently being held in federal, state, or local custody.
Jail time will always depend on the nature and severity of the charge. The maximum (and minimum) jail time is set under federal or state law. While most people do not end up serving the maximum possible jail time even if they are convicted, you need to be prepared for that possibility when building a legal defense.
You can avoid jail time altogether if your attorney gets the charge dismissed or if you are acquitted. For many misdemeanor offenses, you may also be able to avoid jail time with a well-structured plea bargain.
An attorney can help you build a legal defense focused on getting the best outcome. Generally, that means avoiding or limiting jail time. The proper strategy depends on the specific circumstances of the case. False charges require an aggressive defense. On the other hand, some cases are better dealt with by working towards a plea agreement.
Questions to Ask a Defense Attorney
Were you arrested and charged with a crime in Northern Virginia? If so, you should set up an immediate consultation with an experienced defense attorney. Your defense lawyer will answer your most pressing questions.
A consultation with a defense lawyer is fully confidential—meaning it is your best opportunity to get sensitive questions answered by a professional. You should come prepared with questions about the attorney’s background/experience and about your specific case. Some of the most common questions that people ask defense attorneys include:
- How long have you practiced criminal defense?
- How much experience do you have handling cases like mine?
- Will you be the attorney working on my defense?
- What type of outcome do you expect in my case?
- Will you investigate my case?
- How much do you charge for your services?
- How will we communicate while the case is ongoing?
- If I hire you, what are the next steps?
Ultimately, an initial criminal defense consultation is about getting answers to specific questions about your rights and the process. Make sure you come prepared looking for the information you need to protect your best interests. Conversations with your lawyer are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Felony Criminal Cases
A felony is the most serious type of criminal offense. If you or your loved one is facing felony charges in Northern Virginia, it is imperative that you consult with a top defense attorney right away.
In Virginia, serious criminal offenses are charged as felonies. Most felony offenses involve allegations of violence. Though, there are some exceptions. Certain sex crimes, major drug trafficking offenses, and white collar fraud cases can also be charged as a felony even if there is no allegation of violent conduct.
The punishment for a felony depends on the specific classification of the charge. Under Virginia law (Code of Virginia § 18.2-10), Class 1 felonies are the most serious type of criminal charge and they carry a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. On the other end of the spectrum, a Class 6 felony still carries a maximum penalty of one to five years in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Criminal charges must be defended on a case-by-case basis. The best approach depends on many factors—including the strength of the evidence collected by prosecutors. A Virginia defense attorney will help you determine the best way forward. Whether it is raising an aggressive, forceful defense or looking for a reasonable plea agreement.
Misdemeanor Criminal Cases
Generally punished less severely than a felony, a misdemeanor criminal charge can still carry significant penalties in Virginia. Some misdemeanors carry jail time. If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, a defense lawyer will protect your rights.
Misdemeanor offenses are “lower” level crimes that do not rise to the level of a felony. Some of the most common examples of misdemeanor offenses in Virginia include simple assault, shoplifting, reckless driving, drunk driving, and disorderly conduct.
While a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony, these charges still carry major consequences. In fact, under Virginia law (Code of Virginia § 18.2-11), a misdemeanor conviction could lead to prison. Do not take misdemeanor charges lightly. A conviction could follow you around for the rest of your life.
Yes. Once again, a misdemeanor criminal case should not be viewed as a minor issue. Misdemeanors carry real world consequences. You could lose money, your job, and even your freedom. Further, the loss of a clean criminal record can create real problems for you in future. A Virginia defense attorney will protect you and help you secure your future.
As explained by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, a warrant is an official legal document that authorizes law enforcement to take a person into custody. If there is a warrant out for your arrest, you need to take immediate action to protect your rights.
Call a Virginia criminal defense lawyer immediately. A warrant is not going to go away on its own. Until the issue is addressed, the warrant will remain active in a law enforcement database. Police may come looking for you or you may be arrested the next time they run your identity. It is best to get this problem handled now.
If an arrest warrant has been issued, law enforcement believes that there is probable cause that you committed a crime. They are seeking to put you in custody and bring charges. If a bench warrant has been issued, it typically means that you missed a court date or failed to pay a fine. As a general rule, bench warrants are easier to resolve.
A top-rated Virginia defense attorney can review the warrant, listen to your story, explain your options, and help you take action to address the matter. You may still be able to avoid being arrested and placed into custody.