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Criminal Defense

There are four reasons why a person would be called to court:

  1. As a plaintiff who has filed a civil suit
  2. As a complainant who has caused criminal charges to be brought against someone
  3. As a witness called to testify
  4. As a defendant who is being sued or charged with a traffic violation or criminal offense.

Fighting criminal charges can be very complicated, so much so that many cases are dismissed on technicalities. It is particularly important to be represented by a lawyer who is knowledgeable of both the court system and the judges and prosecutors who make it up.

Criminal court is like a dance choreographed by the rules and procedures put in place to ensure justice is served uniformly, without personal considerations or biases. These rules and procedures are guided by the Code of Virginia which defines criminal offenses and sets corresponding penalties, everything from fines to imprisonment.

Regardless of the charge, every American is guaranteed their day in court. We’re here to help you make the most of the day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I’m a defendant in a criminal or traffic case. What should I expect in court?

Answer: First, be sure to dress neatly and respectfully. Make a good first impression on the court.

When your name is called, come forward with your lawyer, if you have one, and witnesses to stand before the bench. The charge will be read. If you do not understand the charge, ask the judge to repeat or explain.

If you are asking for a continuance (postponements) do so now and give your reason. You answer the charge by saying guilty or not guilty. If in doubt, you should plead not guilty. When you plead guilty, you admit that you broke the law as you were charge, and are agreeing to accept any penalty set by law and imposed.

If your plea is guilty:

The judge may hear a brief statement from the officer, prosecutor or individual who brought the charge against you.  Then the judge may ask you if you wish to make a statement. You may then say whatever you wish about what happened. The judge will find you guilty or not guilty and may sentence you.

If your plea is not guilty:

The witnesses who bring evidence against you will be heard first. You or your attorney may cross-examine each witness. You may present witnesses on your behalf. Those accused of criminal charges may testify but do not have to. After your evidence is presented, witnesses against you may be heard again in rebuttal testimony. Then the judge will give his decision.

If you are found NOT guilty, if the judge dismisses the case against you, or if the judge grants a motion not to prosecute, you are free to go.

If you are found guilty, you must pay whatever fines and court costs that were ordered by the judge to the clerk of court. You may also have to surrender your driver’s license, serve jail time, or comply with an alternative sentence ordered by the judge.

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Question: What are my rights to an attorney? Can I choose to represent myself?

Answer: You have the right to retain and be represented by your own lawyer in all matters before the court.

If you cannot afford a lawyer and are charged with a crime for which the penalty includes the possibility of a jail sentence, you can request court-appointed representation. The judge will then examine your financial status and you will have to swear under oath that you cannot afford an attorney. If the judge decides to appoint representation for you and you are found guilty, the attorney costs may be added to your court costs.

You can choose to represent yourself but as the old saying goes, even a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Hiring a knowledgeable lawyer could be the difference between being cleared or convicted.

If you are the complainant in a criminal proceeding, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, who represents the state, will prosecute the case. You have the right to have the clerk’s office subpoena witnesses to appear on your behalf in court. You may ask for a continuance if you have good cause to have your case put off until a later date, though the judge does not have to grant your request.

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Question: I didn’t appear in court/didn’t pay my fine by the deadline. What will happen now?

Answer: In criminal and certain traffic cases, if you fail to pre-pay the fine and costs (when allowed) and also fail to appear in court, a separate warrant may be issued against you on the new charge of failure to appear. You then will have to stand trial on that charge, as well as the original charge.

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Question: Why are my court costs so much?

Answer: The amount of court costs is set by the State legislature, and the court cannot suspend or waive costs. Judges, clerks, and magistrates are salaried with public funds and they collect no individual fees.

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Question: Where does the money I pay for fines go?

Answer: Fines collected for violations of city, town, or county ordinances are paid into the treasury of the city, town, or county whose ordinance has been violated. All fines collected for violation of State law are paid into the State Treasury.

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Question: What does the General District Court do?

Answer: The General District Court decides:

  • Civil suits involving amounts of money up to $15,000.
  • Unlawful detainer (eviction) suits that include a request for rent for more than $15,000.
  • Misdemeanor criminal cases (any charge which carries a penalty of no more than one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500)
  • Traffic cases

The General District Court also holds preliminary hearings in felony cases (any charges which carry a penalty of more than one year in jail). Preliminary hearings in felony cases are held to determine whether there is enough evidence to justify holding the defendant for a grand jury hearing. The grand jury determines whether the accused will be indicted and held for trial by the Circuit Court.

The General District Court does not conduct jury trials. All cases in this court are heard by a judge. Jury trials are held only in Circuit Court, as provided by the State Constitution.