If somebody is being charged with a crime for the first time in their life, they may be scared and overwhelmed at the process. It is important for everyone to know exactly what to expect in a Fairfax criminal case so they can stay focused. A conviction will stay on one’s criminal record forever with the exception of some juvenile convictions. However, a first-time criminal defendant will generally be treated with more leniency than someone who already has a criminal history.
If you have recently been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, a dependable criminal defense attorney could take the time to explain how this process will work.
Criminal charges in Fairfax typically take at least two court dates to resolve, and each date is usually separated by at least a month. After getting arrested and charged, the first court date will be the arraignment. Arraignment is when the court determines whether a defendant will represent themselves, apply for a court-appointed lawyer, or hire a private attorney. Sometimes arraignment also determines whether the defendant wishes to plead guilty or not guilty at the outset. A date for a trial will also be set, if necessary.
If a person is charged with something particularly serious or has a concerning prior criminal record, they may have to be held in jail while their trial date is pending. Being released during the pendency of a case is called “bail,” and courts admit people to bail in the form of bail bonds. If a person is initially held without bail by a magistrate judge, a lawyer could file a bond motion even before arraignment in an attempt to get the defendant released.
In a local criminal case, defendants should expect misdemeanors to carry the possibility of jail time and high fines, among other penalties. Judges will be hesitant to let the accused represent themselves without a court-appointed or private attorney, and will also expect most misdemeanor defendants to be present for their court dates. The particular judge and prosecutor assigned to misdemeanor court dates are randomized.
Many misdemeanor charges in Fairfax tend to get resolved with trials or plea bargains and do not lead to excessive jail time or fines. Some examples of misdemeanor offenses are:
Felony charges are more serious than misdemeanor or traffic charges. An accused person is less likely to get bond when charged with a felony. Felonies almost always involve more court dates than misdemeanors because they have to pass through multiple levels of the court system before they can be resolved.
One upside to these charges is that the sentencing is more predictable than misdemeanor sentencing, since Virginia uses point-based sentencing guidelines for felonies which can be reviewed in advance of sentencing hearings. Examples of common felony offenses are:
The maximum jail sentence someone should expect in a Fairfax criminal case for a misdemeanor charge is one year in jail. All felonies in Virginia carry at least five years of potential prison time and the most serious felony charges can be punishable by decades in prison (including for life).
Felony charges must resolve in the commonwealth’s highest level of trial court known as Circuit Court, whereas almost all misdemeanors are handled in the lower District Courts. Typical felony sentences include a large portion of suspended jail time which is conditioned upon successfully complying with supervised felony probation for a number of years. While there is a version of misdemeanor probation called the Local Offender Program (LOP), it is much less common for a misdemeanor sentence to include an active supervision component.
All criminal convictions in a District Court can be appealed and re-litigated in the Circuit Court if an unacceptable outcome occurs, or the defendant wishes to have a jury trial.
Although a criminal charge may throw your life into chaos, the actual legal process is standard and predictable. A qualified lawyer could guide you through what to expect in your criminal case in Fairfax and discuss your best way of moving forward. Speak to one now for a free consultation.
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