A simple error or misunderstanding of the law can result in arrest and criminal charges. You could face felony or misdemeanor counts for violations like violent crimes, fraud crimes, sex crimes, DUI, assault offenses, and theft crimes. A guilty verdict for any of these charges attracts harsh penalties like incarceration, court fines, and probation, not to mention the disabilities stemming from having a criminal record.

Thankfully, you can contest the charges and obtain a fair ruling with the guidance of a Williamsburg criminal defense attorney. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we can help you avoid the penalties and disabilities stemming from criminal charges. Below, we have discussed Virginia's two primary categories of crimes and how the court prosecutes them.

Williamsburg Criminal Violations

A criminal violation or crime refers to harmful behavior against another person that the law penalizes. The explicit reason for establishing crimes is to prevent the prosecution of conduct that does not amount to a crime when perpetrated. Again, every crime has its unique penalties to help you understand the maximum punishment you will face for your violation in Williamsburg.

When you face charges for an offense, you are entitled to seek legal counsel and representation immediately after being apprehended. During arrest, the police must notify you that you are entitled to an attorney and that you can wait for your attorney's presence before answering any of their questions.

After the arrest, the police present your file to the prosecutor or District Attorney (DA), who evaluates your case and decides whether or not to file charges. If the prosecutor agrees to file formal counts, they must prove beyond moral certainty that you committed the alleged crime.

Hiring a Williamsburg attorney immediately after arrest ensures your rights are safeguarded and you are adequately represented in court if the case proceeds to trial.

Williamsburg Crimes Categories

Criminal violations in Virginia are grouped into two primary categories: misdemeanors and felonies.

Misdemeanor Offenses

Misdemeanors are less severe criminal violations that attract no more than twelve months of jail incarceration, community hours, probation, and financial court fines of no more than $2,500. Although these penalties are not as harsh as those of a felony conviction, they are severe and can adversely affect many aspects of your life. When the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor or fails to fight the charges, you earn a criminal record that haunts you forever. Therefore, hiring a Williamsburg defense attorney is always recommended, even with misdemeanor charges.

Misdemeanors are grouped into four primary classes, with Class 4 being the least severe violation and Class 1 being the strictest. The incarceration duration and court fines the court will impose vary depending on the class of misdemeanor to which you fall. Any misdemeanor violation that does not belong to these categories or lacks a maximum jail sentence is a Level 1 misdemeanor.

Class One

Misdemeanors that fall under the level 1 category are the most severely punished, with a guilty verdict attracting at most twelve months of jail incarceration and court fines of at most $2,500. Any other offense with harsher penalties is a felony. Criminal violations falling under this classification are:

  • DUI.
  • Reckless driving.
  • Petit larceny.
  • Assault and battery.
  • Domestic violence.

Class Two

Any misdemeanor offense that attracts jail incarceration belongs to Class 2. Crimes in this category attract at most half a year of jail time and court fines of no more than $1,000. Even though these penalties are more lenient than those of level one misdemeanor, a guilty verdict can result in a criminal or driving record. Infringements falling under this group are:

  • Aggressive driving.
  • Operating an automobile without a driver’s license.
  • Schedule IV controlled drug possession.
  • Violation of a visitation order.

Class Three

A less stringent misdemeanor you could face is Class 3. A guilty verdict under this classification does not attract a jail sentence. Instead, the court imposes a financial court fine of at most $500. Nevertheless, even without a jail sentence, misdemeanors under this category should be taken seriously because a conviction will go into your criminal history, resulting in severe collateral consequences. Criminal violations belonging to this classification are:

  • Infringement of visitation or custody orders.
  • Operating a car without insurance.
  • Schedule V narcotics possession.
  • Using reflective window tinting.

Class Four

The least severe misdemeanor category is Class 4, whose conviction attracts a court-imposed financial fine of $250. Crimes belonging to this category include:

  • Public intoxication.
  • Schedule IV narcotics possession.

Just because a conviction for this misdemeanor category does not attract jail incarceration does not mean you should take the offense lightly. A guilty verdict can result in a criminal record that can harm your life in many ways.

The statute of limitations for any misdemeanor offense is one year. If no charges are filed within the duration, the accuser relinquishes their right to do so.

You should know that misdemeanor sentencing has additional consequences, depending on your case's circumstances.

For example, when the court sentences you for reckless driving or drinking and driving, you risk suspension of your driver’s license. Additionally, before reinstatement of your privileges, the court will require you to enroll in a mandatory drug program or DUI school.

For offenses like domestic abuse, the court can issue a protective order, compulsory counseling, or anger management classes. A drug offense sentencing can come with an additional requirement to participate in drug counseling.

Similarly, you risk penalty enhancement or a felony count if the misdemeanor is at least your second one or encompasses an elevated risk of causing significant harm.

Court Proceedings in Misdemeanor cases

After suspicion of a misdemeanor crime in Williamsburg, the court will issue a summons indicating the date you should appear. On the other hand, the police can gather evidence of a misdemeanor against you and then submit the file to a magistrate requesting an arrest warrant. If the court grants the warrant, you will be apprehended and released on bail pending arraignment. In the proceeding, the court reads your charges, advises you on your right to legal representation, and sets the trial date.

Typically, the trial is set sixty days after arraignment to allow the defending team time to summon witnesses, collect proof, and go through the discovery stage, where the prosecutor shares the evidence they have against you. If, during this period, the opposing sides reach an agreement, the case is dropped. If the opposing sides do not arrive at a settlement, the case proceeds to trial.

The General District Courts handle misdemeanor cases. No jury is involved in these trials. The judge evaluates the evidence produced by opposing sides and issues a judgment. If the court's decision is against you, you have ten days after sentencing to appeal.

Felony Offenses

Felonies are usually harsher offenses than misdemeanors. The highest jail sentence for a misdemeanor is twelve months, with some offenses not attracting any jail term. Conversely, felony offenses attract several years of prison incarceration, including life imprisonment. Once you complete your felony sentence, your criminal record will result in severe collateral consequences. An experienced Williamsburg defense lawyer can help you contest the charges for a dismissal or lenient punishment.

VA statutes classify felonies in Classes 1-6. Class one is the most severely punished felony, while Class six is the least serious. The category under which the prosecutor will charge your crime depends on its severity and your intent during its commission. Each felony type has unique penalties, with some offenses in more than one category. Felony categories include:

  1. Class One

The harshest penalties you will attract after a conviction in Virginia are for a felony belonging to Class 1. Examples of violations falling under this category are capital murder and sexual abuse of a child under the age of fifteen. If you are a sober-minded adult and the court finds you guilty of capital murder, you risk a death sentence. First-degree murder and all other Class 1 felony offenses attract life imprisonment and, at most, $100,000 in court-imposed fines. Your best chance of a charge reduction or lenient penalty is working with a Williamsburg defense attorney. We can aggressively defend against the charges at the Virginia Criminal Attorney for a fair verdict.

  1. Class Two

Even though they do not attract harsh penalties like Class 1 felonies, level 2 felonies are serious crimes, and a conviction is heavily punished. Offenses that belong to this category include premeditated and intentional offenses like first and second-degree murders. Other crimes in this class are kidnapping with intent to extort, terrorism, arson, and burglary with a lethal weapon. A guilty verdict for these offenses attracts a sentence ranging from twenty years to life incarceration. The court can also impose at most $100,000 in lieu of or alongside imprisonment.

  1. Class Three

When you shoot or stab someone, commit a particular drug offense, or attempt to poison someone, you will attract charges under Class 3. Other criminal violations that can attract charges in this class include malicious wounding and causing injuries with the intent to disable, disfigure, or end life. A guilty verdict for any of these felonies attracts five to twenty years of prison incarceration and a court fine of at most $100,000.

  1. Class Four

Several felonies belong to Class 4, including human trafficking, shooting at a vehicle, child abuse, embezzlement, bigamy, kidnapping, falsifying public records, and manslaughter. When the court issues a guilty verdict against you for any offenses, you risk 24 to 120 months of prison incarceration and no more than $100,000.

  1. Class Five

Violations under Class 5 are severely punished, although the prosecutor files them as wobblers, allowing them to charge the offenses as felonies or misdemeanors based on the case’s circumstances. For example, when you face a Class 5 felony charge for the first time, the prosecutor will file the offense as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. A misdemeanor violation attracts lesser penalties than a felony.

Crimes that fall under this class are extortion, manslaughter, credit card forgery, $500 computer fraud, involuntary manslaughter, and solicitation of a minor younger than 16. A guilty verdict for these offenses results in 12 to 120 months of prison incarceration. When the court prefers misdemeanor charges, you will face at most twelve months in jail and fines of no more than $2,500.

  1. Class Six

Level six felonies are also wobblers and are considered to carry the fewest penalties. They include court order violations, animal cruelty, reckless endangerment, and repeat larcenies. A felony conviction attracts 12 to 60 months of prison incarceration, while a misdemeanor attracts twelve months and $2,500 in court fines.

Additional Felony Penalties

Apart from court fines and incarceration, if the court sentences you for a felony, you risk other additional consequences. If your felony sentence was for a sex offense, the court will require you to enlist as a sexual offender, resulting in social stigma and a damaged reputation.

Similarly, if you are an alien, a guilty verdict can result in deportation or inadmissibility. Therefore, when convicted of a felony, you must find a Williamsburg attorney who understands immigration matters to prevent immigration consequences.

Lastly, a felony sentence will result in collateral consequences like restrictions on employment, scholarships, benefits, state programs, housing, and state licensing.

Reduction of a Felony to a Misdemeanor

At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we can negotiate with the DA to reduce your felony count to a misdemeanor through plea bargaining. However, for this to happen, you must plead guilty to the lesser offense, meaning that even if you do not have a criminal record for a felony, you will have one for a misdemeanor, which will still haunt you.

Therefore, why should you pursue a charge reduction? A plea deal is not always the best way to resolve your case. Nevertheless, it is beneficial if the prosecutor has compelling evidence to secure a felony sentence.

Also, the misdemeanor penalties are less severe. However, before agreeing to a plea deal, have your attorney evaluate it to see if the terms provided by the prosecution are favorable. If they are, you can enter the deal to avoid the lengthy trial and the uncertainties associated with these court proceedings.

Felony Court Proceedings

Your Williamsburg felony judicial hearing can begin in two ways. The proceeding can begin with a direct indictment or with the court issuing a warrant for your arrest. An arrest warrant for felony offenses typically includes a pretrial proceeding and arraignment dates.

Note these dates carefully because failing to appear can result in a separate additional felony count. The judge will issue a bench warrant if you do not attend court within fourteen days. Skipping court is a level six felony that attracts at most 60 months of prison incarceration and $2,500 in court monetary fines. Therefore, you should avoid skipping court by all means. And if you have a genuine reason for missing court, let your Williamsburg attorney know.

If your reasons for not appearing in court were genuine, the attorney will petition the court to recall the warrant. The court will resume normal processes, and you will be scheduled for the preliminary proceeding.

The initial proceedings of a felony case happen in the General District Court, where there are no juries. Your arraignment hearing will be scheduled two to fourteen days following the arrest. In the proceeding, the judge informs you of your charges and then advises you to seek legal representation. The court then schedules an attorney information date within 21 days after arraignment. In the proceedings, you will inform the court whether you have secured an attorney's services.

Also, it is in the arraignment that the judge arranges the preliminary proceeding. The hearing usually happens 60 to 90 days after the arraignment. The initial hearing enables the judge to evaluate whether the prosecutor has evidence against you and decide if it is sufficient to take the case to trial. You should have your Williamsburg defense attorney present at this hearing to compel the judge to drop the felony charges. If a dismissal is not possible, the lawyer can negotiate for a charge reduction to a misdemeanor.

If the evidence against you is sufficient to proceed to trial, the judge will certify the allegations for a grand jury. Your presence is not needed by the jury. The jurors analyze the proof against you and call witnesses to testify. If the evidence satisfies the requirements of the VA statute you are accused of violating, the jury issues an indictment, resulting in formal charges.

Once formal charges have been filed, you will appear in the circuit court after four weeks for the status proceeding. Here, the judge will decide whether a judge or jury should preside over your case.

The case then goes to the discovery stage, where the prosecutor shares the evidence against you with your attorney. Your defense attorney will review the evidence and find weaknesses they can rely on to craft solid defenses. Alternatively, the legal representative can negotiate a fair plea deal with the prosecutor.

Particular felonies start directly in the circuit court and skip the district court proceedings. Those in the district court begin with a direct indictment, where allegations are presented before a grand jury without your apprehension. If probable cause is present in your case, the judge issues a bench warrant, or you are served with an indictment.

Find a Competent Defense Attorney Near Me

However severe your criminal accusations are, your case is not hopeless, and therefore, you should not face the charges alone. You should speak to a profound Williamsburg defense attorney immediately. We will explain your charge type to the Virginia Criminal Attorney and craft defenses for a fair verdict. Contact us at 703-718-5533 for a no-obligation case evaluation.