Effective Virginia Criminal Defense
The U.S. Constitution requires the prosecution to prove every element of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt before the accused can be convicted or found guilty of the allegation. For example, larceny is the taking of the property of another with the intent to deprive them of it permanently. Thus, the defendant must have committed the act of taking the property and have done so with the mental intention to take the property of another. It is not enough for a prosecutor to suggest that the defendant committed a crime. Rather, the prosecutor is required to prove each and every element of a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order for a defendant to be convicted.
Police officers, prosecutors, and other government officials must also follow certain procedures in pursuing criminal activity. This is because all citizens have certain constitutional rights that the government must respect and protect. If these rights are not respected, it may prevent a prosecutor from obtaining a conviction in a case. The United States Constitution sets forth these rights and the protections that are afforded to defendants. For instance, if a citizen is arrested for a suspected criminal offense, police officers may wish to question the individual in connection with the crime. However, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect citizens from unlawful questioning and interrogation by police officers, unless properly warned. Thus, it is critically important that you contact a Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer who can properly explain what defenses you may or may not have, how the law applies to your case, and how we can best protect you before the Courts. Remember, an arrest is NOT a conviction! We defend clients who have been accused of criminal offenses in the following courts: Caroline County, Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie County, Emporia, Greensville, Hanover, Henrico, Petersburg, Prince George & Richmond.
Virginia Criminal Procedure
The Constitutions of the United States and Virginia guarantee the accused with certain rights in the event of a criminal trial. The Code of Virginia further outlines the criminal procedure in Title 19.2.
Probable cause is required for an arrest. Probable cause simply means that there is a good reason to believe the suspect committed a crime. The “warrant requirement” means that a police officer must have an arrest warrant to make an arrest; however, there are countless exceptions to this requirement, which is often when the offense in question was observed by a police officer.
If the police are going to question the suspect after the arrest, then the police officers must inform the suspects of their Miranda rights: 1) right to an attorney, 2) the right to remain silent, and 3) the right to have your attorney present during questioning.
After the arrest, the suspect is taken to the police station for booking or processing. This will require being fingerprinted and photographed. Officials will confirm details such as full name and birth date. The magistrate then conducts a bail hearing to determine conditions for pretrial release.
Arraignment | Pre-trial
The arraignment is the first court appearance where the judge informs the defendant of his or her right to an attorney. The judge may also review bail.
Many criminal cases are resolved when the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to reduced charges or in exchange for a lighter sentence. Virginia judges usually abide by plea agreements, although they are not required to do so.
Preliminary hearing for felony cases
Felony cases initiated on an arrest warrant then proceed to what is called a preliminary hearing in the district court. Probable cause must then be presented to the Judge who then certifies the case to the grand jury if there is probable cause to support the charge. The primary difference between this procedure and the magistrate issuing an arrest warrant based on probable cause is that the defendant can present evidence and the defendant’s attorney can cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. If the defendant was indicted by the prosecutor then there is no preliminary hearing in the district court.
Misdemeanor trials are held in the district court with a Judge. Felony trials (or misdemeanor appeals from the district court) are held in the circuit court, where the defendant has a right to trial by jury. At trial, the prosecution is required to present evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant may present evidence, but that is not required.
Verdict | Sentencing
In a jury trial, all jurors must agree that the evidence proves the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury cannot agree, then a mistrial will be declared on the charges to which there is no agreement, and those charges may be tried again later before new jurors. In a Judge or bench trial, the Judge determines if the evidence is sufficient to prove the offense alleged.
Sentencing guidelines are prepared for the Judge hearing the case to assist in imposing a penalty if the defendant is found guilty. The jury does not receive any assistance from such guidelines. The guidelines assign point values for various aspects of the conviction, such as the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history, and then calculate a range for an appropriate sentence. Judges have some leeway in determining the sentence, but usually, keep the term within the range of the guidelines.
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By Mitch Wells 11/10/2015 | Updated 12/29/2015