Understanding the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony
The most serious crimes are classified as felonies, which carry significantly greater potential consequences to the accused than misdemeanors. A misdemeanor is a crime for which a person can be sentenced to no more than 12 months in jail; a felony is a crime for which a person can be sentenced to more than a year. In most cases in Virginia, a person sentenced to a misdemeanor jail sentence must serve 50% of the length of his sentence while a person serving a felony sentence will serve about 85% of the sentence.
If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Harrisonburg VA, we invite you to learn more about our free criminal defense consultations.
Virginia’s process for felony charges
If you’re being investigated for a criminal offense, you have the right to remain silent – USE IT! Talking to law enforcement without first consulting a criminal defense attorney is almost always a bad idea that you will later regret. Police are trained to make you feel that talking to them without consulting an attorney is your best option – perhaps your only option – but that is just not true. You will have plenty of time to talk later if you and your lawyer think it would be beneficial, but many defendants destroy their shot at a favorable outcome by talking to the police without the benefit of counsel.
When you need a Harrisonburg criminal defense attorney, our team at Cook Attorneys has the experience you and your family needs to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. If, after consulting with us, you decide to speak to law enforcement, we can be present with you during your questioning.
If you’re arrested on felony charges, you will be taken before a magistrate. The magistrate will determine whether you can be immediately released on bail or held over for an initial court appearance. While the magistrate cannot testify against you later, what you tell the magistrate that is overheard by others present, including a police officer, may be used against you later. You should answer the magistrate’s questions about your identity and your background, but it is usually a bad idea to talk to the magistrate about the facts leading up to your arrest.
If you are not released on bail, you will be taken to either a General District Court or Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court on the next day that court is open. The judge at that time will ask if you want a court-appointed attorney and will schedule a preliminary hearing. He may also conduct a bail hearing to determine if you can be released on bond or be held until trial. You can read more about the bail bond process in Virginia here. When you choose our firm to represent you, we will advise you whether you are eligible for bail and, if so, will advocate on your behalf for your release.
The next significant hearing in the felony process is the preliminary hearing where the District Court judge will hear the prosecutor’s evidence to determine whether there is probable cause that the charged felony offense was committed. This is an important hearing because it is your lawyer’s opportunity to cross examine the witnesses presented by the government and in some cases the charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor. While it is possible to waive (or give up) your right to a preliminary hearing, it is almost never advisable unless you already have a plea agreement with the prosecutor to favorably conclude the case in Circuit Court.
After the preliminary hearing, the case is sent to the Circuit Court for trial. Virginia’s Speedy Trial statute requires the Circuit Court to schedule felony trials within five months of the preliminary hearing for individuals who have been incarcerated (imprisoned) and within nine months for those not in custody. Trials can be heard by juries or by judges (bench trial). Your criminal defense lawyer will help you to choose the most advantageous option for your case.
During the trial, evidence is presented and the jury and/or judge will decide whether the prosecutor has presented evidence that proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You will have 30 days to file an appeal if you are found guilty.
If you are found not guilty, the case is over. However, if you are found guilty of any charge, the next step is a sentencing hearing. It is during this process that the judge and/or jury will determine the appropriate punishment for your crime(s).
Let our experienced team support you during this difficult process
An investment in our experienced team of criminal lawyers is an investment in your and your family’s future.
Contact us for a free criminal defense consultation so that we can explain your options and show you how we can help you.