When facing Prince William County criminal charges, it is important for any alleged offender to remember that there are options available to help reach a favorable outcome in a court case. Contacting a lawyer in Prince William County may help with the courtroom proceedings and help you better understand your options.
When charges are filed against a person in Prince William County, that means they should expect that the investigating police has determined that there is probable cause for an arrest and the officer has issued either a summons to the individual or a warrant for their arrest. After filing these, the court process may begin. An alleged defendant could expect that they will have an initial court appearance before a judge or magistrate to determine whether their next court date will be for a preliminary hearing or a trial.
When someone is charged with a misdemeanor in Prince William County, their case will almost always be heard in the General District Court. They may be released on a summons that is their promise to appear for their court date or, less commonly, be arrested on a warrant for a misdemeanor and go before a magistrate to determine their bond status before going to court. On the charge recipient’s first court date, they will generally be given the opportunity to apply for court-appointed counsel or hire an attorney.
The most common examples of misdemeanors in Prince William’s County are driving offenses. Reckless driving and driving under the influence are two of the more common. Among other common charges are petty larceny, shoplifting, possession of marijuana, or obstruction of justice. All of these charges are filed at General District Court.
The biggest difference between someone being charged with a felony or a misdemeanor in Prince William County is how recipients are charged in the case and how alleged defendants appear in court. Someone charged with a felony will almost always have to go before the magistrate on an arrest warrant to have the magistrate determine bond. In many cases, a magistrate is not able to set a bond or declines to set a bond on a felony charge, and the defendant will then have to go in front of a judge in the General District Court to have the judge address a defendant being held without bond. In a case of someone held without bond, alleged perpetrators have to have an attorney file a bond motion before the court will consider amending their bond in most cases.
The other major difference is that the first court date for a misdemeanor charge is usually for a trial date, and for a felony charge it is for a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is simply to determine whether there is enough evidence for a felony case to send the case to trial. In most cases, the prosecutor has enough evidence to send the case to trial. The court appearance gives prosecutors and defense lawyers an opportunity to address some of the concerns in the case and possibly work them out in the General District Court before the case goes to trial.
The most common of felony charges in Prince William County are mainly possession of drugs and property crimes resulting from grand larceny or theft of property.
The technical difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge is that a misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of up to one year in county jail whereas a felony might be punished by more than one year in prison. As for the bond for each, it is much more common to have a bond set without a bond motion on a misdemeanor charge. The procedure for a felony charge is longer and typically takes more time because a felony case has to be certified by a grand jury before it can be sent to trial. Additionally, a felony case needs to take place in Circuit Court while misdemeanor trials are typically heard in the General District Court, or depending on the case itself, heard on the first day of court.
What someone should expect from their first court date in Prince William County depends on the type of charge they are facing. In most cases, whether a felony or misdemeanor, the initial appearance in court will likely involve a judge who determines if the defendant knows what they are charged with and knows they have a right to have an attorney. The judge will also want to determine whether the person wishes to hire their own attorney or wants to apply for a court-appointed attorney.
If defendants do want to apply for a court-appointed attorney, the judge will give them the time to fill out that paperwork. While it is possible in some misdemeanor cases to have the case resolved at the first court appearance, it is more common for them to be continued. Thus, not every misdemeanor is set for arraignment, but every felony is. For either type of crime, the first court appearance will give an individual an opportunity to request time to hire an attorney.
In some instances, a misdemeanor may be resolved at the first court appearance if there is a charge in which concerns could be addressed before court. Sometimes with a reckless driving charge, performing some community service could address all the concerns that a prosecutor would have and the charge can be reduced to a traffic infraction. Even with possession of marijuana or a petty larceny charge, the defendant might put in enough community service work before their court date, and the prosecutor and defense attorney may then come to an agreement and have it resolved at the initial appearance.
The most important things to know about facing criminal charges in Prince William County is first, that the in any criminal case, the prosecution has to be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. A defense attorney may not consider any type of plea bargain unless they are satisfied the prosecutor can prove the state’s case. Secondly, it is rare to see a prosecutor assigned to a specific court date, whether for a misdemeanor or felonious charge, a defendant may see a different prosecutor at each General District court date.
Lastly, every defendant should know the importance of hiring an experienced defense counsel who has specific experience working with the prosecutor’s office.
Attempt to commit conspiracy is an inchoate crime, meaning it is an incomplete crime because conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime in the future and an attempt to conspire is taking steps to complete that crime. In many cases, an attempt or a conspiracy is treated and punished in the same manner as completing a crime, and the level of culpability is identical. But, there are also specific statutes in Virginia to make an attempt or conspiracy a less serious felony charge than a felony of a completed crime.
Being charged with an incomplete crime generally increases the possibility of a range of bargaining in a criminal case. Someone charged with an offense may have a better opportunity to argue to the prosecutor that no crime and no harm occurred, and so their case should not be handled as if they had. Conversely, it increases the opportunity for the prosecutor to bargain the case down or up as the facts of the case permit.
While it is possible to be charged with an attempt and the underlying offense, it is very rare. To charge someone with a crime, the government needs to have probable cause that the person was involved in one. The most common scenario would be when it is unclear whether the attempt was successful, and it may not be possible to prove that a crime was completed, but it is possible or easier for the government to prove that there was an attempted crime.
It is much more common for someone to be charged with conspiracy and the underlying offense because a conspiracy is simply the agreement to commit a crime. In any case where two or more people commit a crime together, they have committed a conspiracy beforehand. It is very possible to be guilty of both the conspiracy and the underlying offense.
It is rare for people to be charged with an incomplete crime in Prince William County, especially in instances in which the evidence is lacking in the face of more serious criminal activity. In a home-invasion case, for example, a burglary takes place, but the evidence of burglary is lacking, so the people who were accused of that burglary are likely to be charged with a conspiracy to commit it. But, those charges may often lead to deeper investigations from the prosecutor’s standpoint.
One of the biggest mistakes people typically make when facing criminal charges in Prince William County includes assuming that the government has the cooperation of its witnesses. Another is to assume the government has all the evidence it needs to go forward with prosecuting the offense. Additionally, the biggest mistake a defendant could make is to speak with the police or prosecutors about their case, or if they are incarcerated, to speak about any facts of their case on the phone. All phone calls from the detention center in Prince William County are recorded, and there are several cases every year that go to trial with the main evidence against the defendant being their own statements made on the jail phone calls.
The best way to avoid making common mistakes when facing criminal charges, especially in Prince William County, is to hire an attorney who is experienced, who has worked in the county a long time, and who know the common pitfalls and errors.
Whether you are facing felony or misdemeanor charges, a client-centered defense attorney could help you understand what your options might be and stand by you during litigation. Reach out today for your confidential consultation.
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