There are 2 main categories of criminal charges in Virginia.
Misdemeanors are crimes that have a possibility of jail time of up to 12 months. Felonies are more serious crimes and have a possibility of jail or prison time of up to the remainder of your life, or even the death penalty.
The Attorneys at Beavers Law, P.C. have experience in both juvenile and adult misdemeanors and felonies, including detention and bond hearings.
Misdemeanors are usually handled in a District Court from initial arraignment to sentencing.
If the defendant, or the complaining witness, is under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, or where the parties are involved in some sort of family or domestic relationship, the case is heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
If both the defendant, and the complaining witness, are over the age of 18 and where there is no family or domestic relationship between the parties, the case is heard in the General District Court.
District Courts are considered 'Courts not of record' and any case that is completed in a District Court can be appealed to the Circuit Court.
Felony -- Juvenile
A Felony that is heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court can be finalized in that court. This is usually done when the defendant is under the age of 18 and the courts want to use some forms of punishment that will hopefully help a Juvenile not ruin his or her entire life. There is a possibility that the juvenile defendant will spend some time in the control of the Department of Juvenile Justice, but this would keep the juvenile out of the adult jail system.
There are some cases where the prosecution (the Commonwealth Attorney in Virginia) makes a motion to the court to treat a juvenile as an adult. If the Judge agrees with this motion, the process will continue with the grand jury just as if the juvenile was charged in the General District Court.
Felony -- Adult
A Felony charge for an adult defendant is started in the General District Court where the Judge hears testimony during what is called a 'Preliminary Hearing' and the Judge will then determine whether he or she believes that there is probable cause to think a crime was committed and that the defendant might be the person who committed the crime. This is not the trial where the defendant puts on his or her defense, and the prosecution does not need to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt (that part comes later).
If the Judge believes that there is probable cause, the case is then sent to a grand jury that will decide whether or not the case should go to trial.
If the grand jury decides that the case should go to trial, the case will then be sent to the Circuit Court for the actual trial. This is the point where the defendant will put on his or her defense and the trier of fact (either the Judge or a Jury) will decide if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
After Guilt is determined, the next step is to decide on a penalty. The actual penalty is up to the Judge based on input from the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the probation department and what is titled as the 'Virginia Sentencing Guidelines'.
Criminal Defense attorneys will often have experience working with the prosecutors and hearing cases in front of that Judge. It is not uncommon for the defense and the prosecutor to work together to arrive at a plea agreement. A plea agreement is often an advantage for the defendant but the specifics of each case are different and you can only know what is in your best interest by speaking with your defense attorney.
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