Have you been accused of a crime in Petersburg? Or have you been arrested and are figuring out what to do? Is your loved one currently in jail and needs to protect their legal rights? If that is the case, we at Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you.

Being charged with an offense in Petersburg is a serious issue. Even a misdemeanor offense can subject you to an incarceration period upon conviction. Or, you can be lucky to successfully avoid an incarceration period, but the judge may impose a hefty fine, and you will have a permanent criminal record.

Our experienced attorneys may assist you in preventing all these possible outcomes. They will work to defend your rights while in custody, develop a defense strategy that protects your freedom, and argue defense strategies before the jury, aiming to cast reasonable doubt. Do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation and case evaluation if you or your loved one is in trouble with the law.

An Overview of Virginia Criminal Law

If you are accused of committing a crime in Petersburg and need a defense attorney, then first understand that Virginia has a unique set of criminal laws. Also, remember that it is one thing to understand Virginia's laws and a completely different thing to understand how the jury or prosecution will interpret these laws.

In several ways, state lawmakers have considerable freedom to create laws contingent on checks and balances established under the constitution, laws unique to every state. Even though federal laws are consistent, federal courts often adopt local regulations. That means that, like other states, Virginia has distinct characteristics.

The Code of Virginia is updated regularly. Consequently, you want to consult a skilled lawyer to ensure you are using the recently updated version. Additionally, an experienced defense lawyer will know the nuances of the law and can develop a defense that any possible prosecutor or jury may ignore or accept as they desire.

The Virginia Court System In Petersburg

Virginia has a two-tier court system, trial courts, and appellate courts, and that is what applies in Petersburg. Trial courts include the Circuit Courts and the District Courts, while appellate courts include the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

The first proceedings for misdemeanor crimes take place in District Courts. Whenever a court is not of record, a stenographer is not needed. Trials that occur in District Courts are equally not presided over by the jury. A person is entitled to a de novo (from scratch) appeal before the Circuit Court should they be discontented with the results of their misdemeanor plea or trial in the District Court.

As “de novo” translates to from scratch or afresh, the District Court's findings and decision are invalid and considered never to have occurred. One of the parties that take part in Circuit Court cases, that is, the accused person, prosecution, or court, may demand a jury trial.

Another distinguishing characteristic of General District Courts is they preside over misdemeanor criminal cases. No felony cases are prosecuted in District courts, and these courts cannot accept felony guilty pleas. In cases of felony charges, whether a trial takes place or a plea deal is reached, hearings must occur in circuit courts.

Since Virginia is a state boasting a long history, its criminal statutes have evolved on a case basis, over three hundred years.

Virginia local courts, those in Petersburg included, have also established distinctive standards for evidence admissibility. Many of these standards continue to be defined by prior court verdicts on identical cases, despite the latest attempts by lawmakers to codify the regulations into one document.

Court Trial In Petersburg

Another unique characteristic of Virginia statutes is the bifurcated court trial system. This means Virginia divides a court trial into sentencing and guilt phases. The jury ruminating on your innocence or guilt is not permitted to hear any evidence from your past criminal history, except for certain cases that require showing previous convictions. The judge will set up another sentencing proceeding if the jury finds you guilty. After that hearing, the jury again deliberates and makes its recommendation.

During the second sentencing proceeding, you may submit evidence of past convictions or mitigating evidence. A judge does not have to follow the sentencing recommendation the jury provides but cannot impose a more severe sentencing option than recommended.

You want to consult an experienced Petersburg criminal lawyer if charged with a criminal offense since you must receive legal advice as soon as possible. Not understanding the law that applies to your case may cost you a great deal, be it subjecting you to an incarceration period or leading to property forfeiture.

Defendant's Legal Rights While In Court or Custody

Irrespective of where or how an arrest happens in Petersburg, you have legal rights, which come into effect from your initial encounter with law enforcement up to the final court trial.

First, you never have to speak with law enforcement officers. A law enforcement officer might act as though they are on your side or can be more lenient if you cooperate. However, in the real sense, this is just a trick to attempt to obtain information from you. Do not speak with law enforcement officers with your lawyer present. You are always entitled to a lawyer while in custody, and a lawyer could assist in preventing you from incriminating yourself.

Secondly, you never have to testify before the court. You can always plead the fifth to avoid giving evidence that will help the prosecution's side. Remember, the prosecuting attorney needs to demonstrate a criminal case beyond any reasonable doubt, and they must do that without the defendant’s help.

Lastly, you are entitled to confront your accuser. Every witness in a court trial must testify in open court. Additionally, every witness can be cross-examined. An attorney can help you cross-examine all Commonwealth witnesses testifying for the prosecution's side.

Classification of Crimes

The Virginia criminal code prohibits a wide array of criminal conduct. Generally, criminal acts are divided into two categories. The less serious category is misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are crimes whereby a conviction will lead to not more than 12 months in jail, but, more generally, subject the defendant to a fine and probation. These crimes are divided into four categories: Class 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Class 1 Misdemeanors

Class 1 misdemeanor crimes are the most severe of charges in this category. Examples of offenses under this classification are petit larceny, trespassing, assault, Schedule IV or III drug possession, domestic assault, DUI, reckless driving, and driving on a suspended license. Possible consequences of a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction include a year in jail and a fine of not more than two thousand five hundred U.S. dollars.

Class 2 Misdemeanors

Class 2 misdemeanors are less serious crimes than Class 1 ones, but they may still lead to a significant fine and incarceration. A common example of a Class 2 misdemeanor is driving without a valid operator's license (first offense). Other similar licensing crimes and obstruction offenses are also classified under Class 2 misdemeanors. Possible consequences for a Class 2 misdemeanor conviction are a fine of not more than one thousand U.S. dollars and up to six months in jail.

Class 3 Misdemeanors

Next in severity under the misdemeanor category of crimes are Class 3 misdemeanors. These crimes will not subject you to the possible loss of your freedom and are typically restricted to licensing and regulatory enforcement matters, usually involving sales, livestock, or forestry. Possible consequences for these crimes include a fine not exceeding five hundred U.S. dollars.

Class 4 Misdemeanors

Class 4 misdemeanors are the least severe of the crimes considered misdemeanors. A common example of an offense in this category is drunk in public or public intoxication, which also entails profane gestures or public swearing. Possible consequences of a conviction include zero jail time and a fine that does not exceed two hundred and fifty U.S. dollars.

Unclassified Misdemeanors

Also called Class U misdemeanors, unclassified misdemeanors have special restrictions on fines and jail time. The consequences of these offenses vary by crime, but they generally fall between those for Class 3 and Class 2 misdemeanors An example of a Class U misdemeanor is a first offense of illegal marijuana possession, carrying a maximum fine of five hundred U.S. dollars and a jail term of thirty days. On the other hand, a second offense of illegal marijuana possession is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The more severe category carries the charges referred to as felonies. Felony convictions always carry a prison term exceeding 12 months and up to life in prison. In more severe cases involving massive theft or violence, the penalties include a mandatory minimum prison term. Also, a person found criminally liable for a felony must report the conviction to future employers and might not qualify for specific careers and jobs in the future. A felony conviction might also impact other rights, like gun ownership. Felony offenses are divided into six categories: Class 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Class 1 Felonies

Class 1 felonies are the most severe of the six classes. These crimes subject the defendant to some of the harshest criminal consequences upon conviction. Crimes that fall under the Class 1 felony category include first-degree murder and capital murder. First-degree murder carries consequences that might include a fine of a hundred thousand U.S. dollars and life in prison. If you are an adult (over eighteen years of age) and mentally competent, you may be convicted of capital murder based on case facts and be subjected to the death sentence (capital punishment).

Class 2 Felonies

Class 2 felonies are less serious than Class 1. If you are found guilty of a Class 2 felony, the punishment will be not less than twenty years in prison and a fine of a hundred thousand U.S. dollars. However, the prison sentence may be as severe as life imprisonment. Examples of Class 2 felonies are kidnapping, bigamy, and manslaughter.

Class 3 Felonies

Class 3 felonies are a lesser degree of crime than the previous categories. A conviction for a Class 3 felony could subject you to up to twenty years in incarceration and a fine not exceeding a hundred thousand U.S. dollars. Examples of Class 3 felony crimes include malicious wounding, attempted poisoning, serious forms of burglary crimes, sex crimes, and drug possession.

Class 4 Felonies

Class 4 felony offenses are less serious than Class 1, 2, and 3 felonies. They carry a minimum prison time of twenty-four months and a maximum incarceration period of ten years. If convicted under this category of crimes, you may also be subject to a fine not exceeding a hundred thousand U.S. dollars. Examples of Class 4 felony crimes are embezzlement, some human trafficking crimes, and severe gun crimes.

Class 5 Felonies

Class 5 felony crimes carry a maximum prison term of not more than ten years and a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred U.S. dollars. Examples of crimes under this category are drug possession, forgery, and certain sex crimes.

Class 6 Felonies 

While Class 1 felonies are the most severe, Class 6 felonies are the least severe. Class 6 crimes are the least severe in this category. These crimes carry a maximum prison term of five years. You may also be subject to a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred U.S. dollars if convicted under this category. Examples of crimes under this category include identity theft, fraud, and unlawful wounding.

Class U Felonies

Class U felonies are those that are unclassified. These types of felony charges are for crimes that do not fall categorically under the six felony categories. You may be accused of a Class U felony for offenses like rape, robbery, and grand larceny. Some drug charges could also be deemed Class U felonies. Penalties and fines under unclassified felonies vary based on various factors, like the case facts.

For example, if you have been accused of Virginia grand larceny per VA Code 18.2-95, the prosecution has charged you with either taking property worth more than five dollars directly from a person (pickpocketing) or taking property worth above two hundred U.S. dollars from an individual indirectly (stealing from a neglected bag).

Still, some crimes may be categorized as either felonies or misdemeanors, based on the specific circumstances surrounding the case, like the value of a property damaged or taken, the number of prior similar crimes, or the class of the victims. These are known as wobbler crimes. You want to hire an attorney who can advocate for you during criminal proceedings, whether you are charged with a misdemeanor, felony, or wobbler offense.

Prison Time vs. Jail Time

Virginia law distinguishes between prison time and jail time. Usually, a jail term is served at a county facility under the supervision of the local sheriff's department, and as mentioned above, it is imposed against misdemeanor convictions and ranges from any given period to one year.

A prison term is under the supervision of the Virginia DOC (Department of Corrections) and is imposed against felony offense convictions. Based on Petersburg's local rules and regulations, felony convictions could be served locally. However, any felony sentence that exceeds a year must be overseen by the DOC. Other specific regulations about the amount of time to be served are also applied on a case-by-case basis.  

The Petersburg Criminal Process

Law enforcement officers might not arrest a person in Petersburg unless they observe the person committing an offense or if they have a warrant of arrest. When a police officer arrests you, they must read you your Miranda rights, which include informing you that you have the right to a lawyer and to stay silent. You may contact an attorney soon after your arrest to receive assistance.

After being arrested, the court holds a bail hearing, and a judge sets the amount of money you must pay before you are released from custody. If the district attorney plans to file criminal charges against you, they may offer you a plea deal. During plea negotiations, you want to receive legal counsel from a skilled criminal defense attorney in Petersburg.

If your case goes to trial, there are procedural rules you and your lawyer, as the defendant side and prosecution, must follow. The trial may be presided over by a judge, or a jury if you ask for it. Should the judge find you guilty, they will impose a sentence that may include probation, fines, and an incarceration period, among other potential outcomes.

Find an Experienced Petersburg Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Facing a criminal charge in Petersburg is among the few most challenging situations you ever have to face. Merely being behind bars can be traumatizing. You can panic or attempt to bargain for your freedom, and understandably so because it always seems like you are done for it.

However, once a police officer decides to place you under arrest, it is difficult to have them change their mind; there is only so little you can do. It is critical to know the possible penalties after arrest and take positive steps towards attaining your freedom.

Hiring a Petersburg criminal defense attorney could provide solid support. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we can help protect your legal rights at all stages of the proceedings regarding your case. We can also move to bring evidentiary motions before trial. Lastly, should your case go to trial, we can argue a defense strategy before the jury with clarity and passion. Call us at 703-718-5533 to learn more.