A Criminal Defense Lawyer Fairfax, Va Explains Virginia Criminal Law
A criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va knows that being charged with a crime is stressful and confusing. Those normally in a position of trust — the police and prosecutors — are suddenly “on the other side.” Worse, Virginia’s procedures seem tilted against the defendant. Sure, there are platitudes such as “presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, in Virginia, there is also jury recommended sentencing (Virginia is the only state where the jury decides both guilt and the amount of punishment) and limited discovery (In Virginia the information that a Prosecutor or Police have to hand over to the Defendant is very limited). Whatever the cause, it is a fact that some people are wrongfully convicted of crimes. A criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va works hard to avoid this.
Note: Our lawyers practice in Fairfax, and all other counties of Virginia. We have offices in Fairfax, Arlington, and Staunton. We reference Fairfax, Va. in this article because it is the largest jurisdiction in Virginia with the most rigid procedures. Work done to Fairfax standards meets or exceeds the standards in every other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth, so it is common to use it as a benchmark.
There are many things that make Virginia unique and a good criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va knows these peculiarities quite well. The two most controversial ones are limited discovery and jury sentencing. Unlike in many states, in Virginia the prosecutor is not required to turn over very much information about your case to you. Remarkably, your criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va does not even get to see the police report! Some prosecutors, recognizing how unfair this is, and truly wishing to avoid erroneous convictions on their watch, adopt an “open file” discovery policy. This permits the criminal defense attorney to see the police report and other important information. However, most prosecutors only turn over the mandatory minimum and prefer that the criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va know as little as possible.
As to jury sentencing in Virginia our juries have two functions and a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va understands both. First, a Virginia jury determines whether a defendant is “guilty” or “not guilty.” This is what juries do in all states. However, if a Virginia jury finds the defendant “guilty,” their second function is to deliberate a second time and recommend the sentence for that defendant — how much prison or jail time. Despite the existence of Sentencing Guidelines that would give context to sentencing, Virginia jurors do not get to see them and, thus, make sentencing recommendations in the absence of this important context. A skilled criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va is familiar with these dynamics and well prepared to argue a case in front of a jury.
When it comes to defending a client against charges, a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va usually works backwards. He or she will review the alleged crime and list the “elements.” Elements are the several things that the government must prove to win a conviction. Can each element be proven beyond a reasonable doubt? Seeing that Constitutional rights have been protected are also common defenses that a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va might employ. For example, if the police violate the Constitution by illegally searching one’s home, the penalty is that they can’t use any evidence obtained during that search. Defenses are different based on the case. For example, an alibi defense necessarily requires some proof that the accused was not at the crime scene. A skilled criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va knows what defenses best fit what fact patterns and uses that knowledge to best protect the defendant.
In Virginia, prosecutions for misdemeanors and felonies proceed somewhat differently and a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va is comfortable with both processes. Virginia misdemeanor prosecutions commence on a Summons or Warrant of Arrest. The accused is given a court date for an “arraignment” wherein he is formally read the charges and told to get a lawyer. The accused is given a second date for the trial. Motions may be heard on the day of trial or sometime in advance, depending on the court and issue. Misdemeanor trials are before a single judge in the General District Court. If convicted in that court, the accused can appeal to the Circuit Court so that his or her criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Vacan argue a new trial before a jury.
Felony prosecutions in Virginia commence on a Warrant of Arrest or an Indictment and a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va can help right away. In most cases, the accused is called before the General District Court for a Preliminary Hearing. This is a truncated trial on the issue of whether the government can prove that there is “sufficient cause” to prosecute him. At this stage the Prosecutor only must show that there is at least some evidence that the Defendant committed the crime. He does not have to prove the case. This was put in place by our Founding Fathers to make sure that truly innocent people are not subjected to the expense and stress of a criminal prosecution. If the case proceeds, it goes to the Circuit Court for an arraignment, motions, and trial. During this process, a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va represents his or her client at all phases of the matter.
Having a good criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va is vitally important to protect your liberty. If you are charged with a crime, a good criminal defense lawyer Fairfax, Va can give you a better chance of a favorable result through plea negotiations or at a trial.