What to expect in Fairfax Criminal and Traffic General District Court
Once you meet your lawyer in Fairfax General District Court, lawyer will start working on your case. Prior to going to work that day, most likely, the Prosecutor has not looked at your case and knows absolutely nothing about it. Most Prosecutors reserve 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. to talk to the Police Officers / victims / witnesses. After 10:30 or so, the Prosecutor will then talk to your attorney to see if a Plea Deal can be worked out. If the Prosecutor offers a deal, your attorney is obligated to present it to you. You are the one who decides if you want the deal or not. If you do not want the deal, then normally a trial will occur, usually starting sometime around 11 – 11:30 a.m. Often, when no plea deal can be made, attorneys will ask for a continuance in hopes of getting a new Prosecutor next time, or to give them more time to prepare.
A lawyer should be prepared to go to trial that day. If a plea deal cannot be agreed upon by you and the Prosecutor, then the trials usually are that day. Thus, prior to Court, you should know if you will be exercising your right to remain silent or will be testifying in your case. (The right not to testify is your Constitutional Right. Your attorney will be able to explain what it means to give up that right and the possible ramifications.)
What to expect after Court. Prior to Court, discuss with your lawyer whether there is a possibility of jail. If there is, you will be expected to start serving it that day. The Fairfax Jail web site has information on visitation and what you can bring into the jail (the items you have – e.g. wallet, cell phone, money — will be collected, put into a bag and stored. When you get out, the Sheriff will give them back to you.)
This is important! Realize that if you do get a Plea Agreement that you want to accept, or if you go to trial and lose, you will likely be taken into the jail directly from the Court room. For example, if you have a really tough case and are hoping to get some charges dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser charge, often the Prosecutor’s deal will require jail. When I was a Prosecutor, I would say, “A Plea Bargain or Plea Deal has the words “bargain” and “deal” in it. If I drop the serious charge and let your client plead to a lesser charge, I understand what he gets in this deal. But what do I get. I want some jail…” It would be a shame if you refuse to take a great deal because you could not do any jail beginning on the Court date. So if your lawyer tells you that jail is possible, make child care and work arrangements prior to Court. (Note: It is possible to ask the Court for a delayed turn in date. But some judges will give these routinely, and some will never grant them.)
What if you do not like the result? The “magic” of General District Court in Virginia is that if you do not agree or even like the result of your case, you can appeal. This can be done right in the Court room. Just have you or your attorney tell the Judge “I would like to note my appeal.” The Judge could require a new bond or a stricter bond, but they usually just continue the existing bond. If they require a new bond or a stricter bond, you will be briefly taken into custody until you can get the new bond taken care of. Your case is then moved to the Circuit Court where you get a trial de novo – which basically means a totally new trial as if the prior trial never occurred. Even if you plead guilty, you can appeal. You have 10 days to appeal. After 10 days the judgment is final. Discuss an appeal with your lawyer because the result of an appeal can be the same, better or worse. Like I said, it is a brand-new trial.