When someone is new to the criminal justice system, the entire process can seem both foreign and overwhelming. Some of that overwhelm is caused by not knowing what is going on. Criminal defense attorney Charles F. Koehler will guide you through the process. Contact his office if you are looking for smart, aggressive legal representation from a Leesburg criminal defense attorney who knows the court system in Loudoun County. In the meantime, here is an overview of the basics of Virginia's criminal process and the court system.
Virginia Criminal Process
From an arrest to acquittal or sentencing, here are the basic steps to the criminal process in Loudoun County, Virginia.
When someone is arrested, this reflects the police officer's view that the person has committed a crime. The police will identify the crime he or she believes the arrested person committed, and this will be reflected in the police log. Some people are booked in the jail and then released. Others are held for a time and then released. Still other times, arrestees remain in custody until they can appear in court, at which time release conditions are set. A person may be ordered to refrain from the use of mood-altering chemicals, like drugs or alcohol. A person may also be ordered to have no contact with an alleged victim. Finally, the person may be ordered to post a bond before he or she can be released.
For misdemeanor cases, a person may be charged by a summons, wherein the court date will be listed. Alternatively, some misdemeanors are charged with an arrest warrant. In this case, a magistrate will tell you when to return to court.
Felonies are charged either by an arrest warrant or an indictment.
Misdemeanor cases are heard in District Court. At the court appearance, a trial date will be set. Some cases settle without the need for a trial. Other cases are tried in District Court. A person then has the right to appeal the court's decision to the Circuit Court. However, if one is found guilty in Circuit Court, the judge has the option of imposing a higher fine or more jail time than the fine or jail time imposed by the District Court.
Felony cases are heard in Circuit Court. When someone is arrested, he or she is seen by the court very quickly, often the next day. At the first appearance, a judge sets cases for a preliminary hearing.
Preliminary Hearings for Felonies
The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether the government has some evidence to support the charges. This is not a trial. Instead, this is an opportunity for the government to provide the court with evidence that “probable cause” existed and supports the charges. This is a much lower standard than the requisite “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard juries must use to convict someone of a crime.
After a preliminary hearing, if there is sufficient evidence, the case is certified to the grand jury in the Circuit Court. A grand jury hears evidence from the investigator or police officer. This evidence is typically limited to the state's version of events. The defense does not provide the grand jury with evidence. Not surprisingly, most grand juries issue indictments after hearing the Commonwealth's version of events.
Once indicted, a defendant is arraigned. This is a very short hearing where the defendant either pleads guilty or not guilty. At an arraignment, the defendant also indicates whether he or she wishes to have a trial by jury or by judge. If the defendant wants a trial to the court, both the judge and the prosecution have to agree. Otherwise, the trial is to a jury.
At trial, the Commonwealth calls witnesses who testify under oath, in open court. The defense attorney cross-examines the state's witnesses. The defendant may also choose to call witnesses on his or her behalf. The defendant may testify but is not legally required to do so, and the Commonwealth cannot force the defendant to testify.
At almost any stage of the proceedings, a defendant may choose to take a plea agreement. Most of the time, pleas are negotiated between the defense attorney and the prosecutor. If a plea agreement is reached, a plea of guilty is entered before the court.
If a defendant is found guilty after a trial or enters a plea of guilty, he or she is scheduled for sentencing in both misdemeanor and felony cases. In most cases, court services prepare a pre-sentence report, which makes recommendations about sentencing.
At sentencing, the court may impose jail time, prison time, or a fine, (or both incarceration and a fine). The amount of time a person is sentenced to is based on any plea agreement that may exist as well as the nature of the crime.
Facing Criminal Charges ?
If you are facing criminal charges in Leesburg, Loudoun County, Clarke County, Frederick County, City of Winchester, you need an attorney on your side fighting for your rights. At the Law Office of Charles F. Koehler, P.C., we provide comprehensive legal services to our clients facing criminal charges. You don't have to go it alone. Contact us for a free consultation at 703-669-5644.