Facing any criminal charge can be a stressful and daunting experience. Particularly for first-time offenders, dealing with document submissions, court dates, and developing a compelling defense strategy can be challenging due to a lack of understanding of the law. If in this situation, you need to consult a skilled criminal defense attorney, as handling these kinds of issues requires a legal mind.
If you have been accused of a crime in Woodbridge, we at Virginia Criminal Attorney can help. We have successfully defended criminal cases and are knowledgeable in federal and state criminal law. Being charged with a crime is a serious matter. However, obtaining a positive result for the charges might be possible. Call us for a free consultation where we will explain the charges against you and find possible defense strategies we could apply in defending you.
Criminal Offenses in Woodbridge
A crime or criminal offense is a harmful act done to someone and penalized under the law. Crimes are explicitly established so that you cannot be prosecuted if your action was not deemed an offense when you allegedly committed it. Additionally, there are stipulated penalties for crimes. This ensures you know the maximum consequences you will face when charged with a criminal offense in Woodbridge.
If accused of a crime, you have the right to legal representation right from the moment you are arrested until your case is resolved, irrespective of whether you freely talked with law enforcement officers before making the request. After making the request, law enforcement officers are forbidden from talking to you without your lawyer’s presence unless you consent to it. When accused of a crime, the burden of proving you have satisfied all the required elements for that offense beyond reasonable doubt lies with the State.
A Woodbridge defense lawyer will ensure the police respect your legal rights whenever you talk with them and guide you away from assisting the prosecutor in meeting the required burden of proof by incriminating yourself.
Classification of Crimes In Woodbridge
Virginia crimes are categorized as felonies or misdemeanors. Each category represents a wide range of wrongful behavior with various punishments.
Misdemeanors are not as severe as felony offenses and carry less severe consequences consequently. However, the punishment associated with misdemeanors, such as heavy fines and jail terms, could be severe, especially for first-time offenders.
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, your best step is to call an experienced criminal defense lawyer to share your case details. The lawyer can help you mount a solid defense for your case. Potential consequences for misdemeanors include a maximum of a year in jail, fines, probation, and community service.
Misdemeanor violations are categorized into classes, that is, Class 1-4. Class 1 carries the harshest consequences, while 4 carries the least severe penalties. Any misdemeanor that does not fall under any category or one that lacks a stipulated maximum punishment is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- Class 1 misdemeanor crimes—these are the most severe types of misdemeanors under Virginia law. More severe crimes than Class 1 misdemeanor violations are deemed felonies. A conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year in jail and a maximum fine of two thousand five hundred dollars. Petty larceny, reckless driving, DUI, assault & battery, and disorderly conduct are Class 1 misdemeanor examples.
- Class 2 misdemeanor violations— Class 2 misdemeanor offenses could also subject you to a jail sentence. The maximum consequences for this category of offenses upon a conviction include a maximum fine of one thousand dollars and a jail term of six months. Examples of crimes under this category are visitation or second custody order violation, displaying a fictitious vehicle permit, possessing a schedule IV drug, and driving without a license.
- Class 3 misdemeanor offenses— generally, Class 3 misdemeanor crimes subject the defendant only to a fine. This category of offenses does not subject the defendant to a jail term. The maximum consequence for Class 3 misdemeanors upon a conviction is a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars. Class 3 misdemeanor crimes include using reflective window tinting, driving without auto insurance, willful misconduct by a notary, violating a visitation or custody order, and possessing a schedule V controlled substance.
- Class 4 misdemeanor offenses— Class 4 misdemeanor crimes do not subject the defendant to a jail sentence. Generally, these crimes are punished by only a fine. Class 4 misdemeanors are the lowest-level crimes under Virginia law. The maximum punishment upon a conviction is a fine of up to two hundred and fifty dollars. Crimes classified under this category include trespassing on railroad tracks, possessing a schedule VI drug, open container/drinking while operating a vehicle, and public intoxication (intoxication in public or profane swearing).
There are more punishments the court may impose after a conviction for a misdemeanor. The penalties are usually specific to the kind of crime the defendant has been convicted of. For example, if convicted of reckless driving or DUI, you could be subject to a driver’s license suspension. The court may need you to complete substance abuse education or treatment to reinstate your driving privilege.
A conviction for a domestic violence crime may subject you to mandatory counseling or treatment or a restraining order. A drug crime conviction may necessitate enrolling in substance abuse treatment or a drug education program.
You can be subject to enhanced penalties (at times a felony charge) if your current misdemeanor violation is a second or subsequent offense or involves a higher risk of harm, protected class of victims, or any other aggravating circumstance. For example, the following crimes increase to a Class 6 felony from a Class 1 misdemeanor:
- Simple battery or assault perpetrated as a hate crime, leading to bodily harm.
- Simple battery and assault when the involved victim is a firefighter, judge, or police officer.
- A third offense for domestic violence.
- A second-offense stalking.
- A restraining order violation that involves stalking, bodily injury, or a weapon.
Some misdemeanors carry mandatory minimum sentences upon a conviction. For example, a judge must order a minimum of six months in jail for a simple assault perpetrated as a hate crime. A second DUI conviction carries a mandatory minimum of ten or twenty days of a jail sentence. Gang-related willful defacement of property is a Class 1 misdemeanor that will subject you to a mandatory minimum fine of five hundred dollars.
Offenses more severe than misdemeanors are considered felonies and usually lead to extended probation terms, a lengthier prison term, and for sex offenses, the requirement to register as a sex offender for life. Whereas misdemeanor convictions can often be life-changing, felony convictions almost always are. A skilled criminal defense attorney can assist you in legally challenging any felony charge against you.
Under Virginia law, felony crimes are divided into six classes, with Class 1 carrying the most severe offenses and Class 6 the least severe. Every classification has its range of penalties. Some offenses can fall under more than one class. The categories are as follows:
- Class 6 felonies— Class 6 felonies are the least severe felonies. These are usually considered wobbler offenses that may be prosecuted as misdemeanors or felonies based on the facts surrounding the case. Examples of these violations include reckless endangerment, repeat larcenies, violation of a court order, and animal cruelty. A felony conviction will subject you to a prison sentence of one to five years and a maximum fine of two thousand five hundred dollars.
- Class 5 felonies— violations that fall under this category include extortion, battery, and involuntary manslaughter. These are also considered wobblers that may lead to a felony or misdemeanor conviction. A conviction for a felony could lead to a prison term of one to ten years and a maximum fine of two thousand five hundred dollars.
- Class 4 felonies— manslaughter, kidnapping, prostitution, arson of an unoccupied building, and embezzlement are considered Class 4 felonies. A conviction of a Class 4 felony offense carries a prison sentence of two to ten years and a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars.
- Class 3 felonies— you may be pronounced guilty of a Class 3 felony for stabbing or shooting someone else, given drug offenses, or attempting to poison another person. Another prevalent example of a Class 3 felony is malicious wounding— inflicting injury to someone else with the intent of disabling, disfiguring, or killing them. A conviction of a Class 3 felony can lead to a prison term of five to twenty years and a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars.
- Class 2 felonies— Class 2 felonies often involve intentional crimes like kidnapping, arson, aggravated malicious wounding (described as causing permanent, physical impairment to someone else), burglary with a deadly weapon, and murder in given circumstances. The sentence for Class 2 felonies ranges from a prison sentence of twenty years to life imprisonment. Apart from incarceration, you can also be subject to a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars.
- Class 1 felonies— you will face the harshest penalties if found criminally liable for a Class 1 offense. Examples of Class 1 violations are murder in the first degree and capital murder. If you are above eighteen years and not mentally incompetent, you may be convicted of capital murder and face the death penalty. If charged with murder in the first degree or any other Class 1 crime, you could be subject to life imprisonment and a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars.
The Role of the Police In Criminal Cases
Law enforcement officers in Woodbridge and the whole of Virginia have significant powers to investigate supposed crimes and arrest criminal suspects. Although, it is critical to understand your right to privacy if you are a criminal defendant.
Consequently, law enforcement officers must at least have a reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in an unlawful activity to stop you. A stop permits the police to question you and check if you have a weapon. Should an officer develop probable cause that an offense has occurred after stopping you, for example, possession of stolen goods or drugs, they will make an arrest. Also, if probable cause exists, the police officer can request a judge to issue a warrant for arrest.
Whether or not the police lawfully executed an arrest or stop, given the circumstances, is a significant factor in all Woodbridge criminal cases. A skilled lawyer can help explain your rights in this case and argue before a judge that a law enforcement officer acted illegally during the arrest.
Your Rights While in Custody
Regardless of the behavior that made the police arrest you, your rights remain unchanged. Once a police officer places you under arrest, they should read you your Miranda rights.
The critical part of Miranda rights is the legal right to stay silent. Law enforcement officers are at liberty to interrogate you however they please. But under no circumstance are you obligated to respond to their questions. This right goes hand in hand with another Miranda right— the legal right to a lawyer during interrogation.
If speaking to law enforcement may help, a lawyer can help you avoid incriminating yourself. Additionally, a lawyer's presence can clarify that you want to refrain from speaking. Always note that law enforcement officers will never want to assist you. Their sole objective is to gather additional info, if possible, a confession. A lawyer could help defend your rights if you are in custody.
Basic Trial Process
The process of undergoing a criminal trial comes naturally to a Woodbridge defense lawyer. Your lawyer will be present to guide you during this challenging process by assisting you in making the right decisions toward achieving a positive outcome.
The trial process for felony offenses is very distinct from that of misdemeanors. For misdemeanor violations, you will appear at an arraignment then a trial will start on the next court date.
With felony offenses, the process involves several steps that an attorney must consider. After arraignment, a preliminary hearing comes next. This hearing is only one step towards a potential trial, where a District Court judge must determine whether probable cause exists to continue with the case. Prosecutors treat felony cases differently as the law obligates them to do so. All felony cases go through the same process.
Appearing In Court In Woodbridge
If charged with an offense that involves local ordinances, city or county laws, or a State misdemeanor, you would report to Prince William District Court for a hearing. Preliminary hearings for felonies also take place at Prince William District Court. A judge hears and decides all cases, although you can appeal to a circuit court.
If you are below 18 years and are accused of a crime that would be deemed a violation if you were 18 years or older, your case will first be heard in Prince William Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. It may then be moved to Prince William Circuit Court, and any case in this court can be appealed to a circuit court.
Prince William Circuit Court handles all felony cases punishable by detention in state prison and misdemeanor cases resulting from indictment by a grand jury. Cases from juvenile court may be moved to Prince William Circuit Court for several reasons, such as certification of charges as a felony offense. It is the only trial court.
Building Solid Defense
Your lawyer will work persistently to achieve the most favorable results for you. This work could include various services, including, among others, investigating your charges, reviewing the prosecution's evidence, identifying experts to testify in your favor, and interviewing witnesses.
Before that, your attorney will work with you beforehand to assist you in understanding your rights and how to invoke them and notify you about law enforcement's suspicions. They can help you defend your legal rights, even outside court, when talking with the prosecution. The lawyer will also explain the severity of your charges and the consequences you may face upon conviction. They will update you on your case proceedings and advise on a path forward.
If your objective is to enter a plea bargain to avoid jail, your attorney can negotiate favorable terms on your behalf. Simultaneously, every defendant is entitled to a court trial. If that is what you want to do to prove your innocence, your lawyer can assist you in developing the most solid possible defense strategy for your case.
It is critical to call an attorney as soon as you are charged since the more time a lawyer has to work on your case, the more prepared they will be to defend you. Remember that proper criminal defense is an active job requiring a lawyer's undivided attention from when a suspect is arrested to the time they spend in custody to every court session.
The consequences of a criminal conviction can be severe. Even minor charges can adversely affect your professional and personal life, including influencing security eligibility clearance and employment.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
It would not be wise to face criminal charges on your own, regardless of their severity. If accused of any offense, you should contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we can help you understand the weight of the charges against you and develop the most solid strategy to defend you. Call us at 703-718-5533 for a consultation with one of our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers if you are facing criminal charges in Woodbridge.