Criminal Court Process

Facing a Criminal Charge in Virginia? What is going to happen to me?

Here is a brief overview of the criminal court process for someone facing charges in Virginia on a criminal offense.If you need advice on a criminal offense, please contact us and our experienced attorneys can provide you with a free legal defense consultation. (877) 439-2999

I was Arrested. What Happens Next?

After you have been arrested and booked at the police station, you will be taken in front of a clerk. The clerk will set Bond. Bond is set to ensure that you return to court for the Arraignment.

Arraignment is the court appearance where you will be formally charged with a crime or crimes that you are suspected to have committed (see below). If you are unable to post bond, then you will be held until your arraignment date. If you post a bond then you will be released until the arraignment date.

Note — the bail set by a clerk may be appealed to a judge. The Judge will re-examine the evidence and make an independent determination of bail.

What Happens in Court at an Arraignment?

After the arrest and bond, you will be required to be at a specific District Court before 9am on a specific date for an arraignment. It is wise to hire an attorney before going into court, as there is a chance that you will wait until your name is called. When it is called you step forward. The charge(s) will be read and you will enter a plea of Guilty or Not Guilty, and then set a date for the next court appearance.

Rarely is it wise to plead guilty. In fact, you should not plead guilty unless you have been properly advised by an attorney. Even if you really believe you are guilty, you may be giving up your negotiating leverage to work out a reasonable deal. It can almost always help you, and virtually never hurts to speak with a defense attorney first, and make sure you are being treated fairly, before entering a guilty plea.

What Happens if I Don’t Show up for Court?

If you fail to appear for court you may be defaulted by the court and an arrest warrant may be issued. This arrest warrant gives police the authority to arrest you at anytime. In addition, you will be charged with the additional crime of Failure to Appear.

What’s the Difference between District Court and Circuit Court?

The District Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal cases. It also hears preliminary hearings in felony cases. The preliminary hearings in felony cases are held in order to establish whether enough evidence exists to hold the individual for a grand jury (there is more information about the grand jury below).

There are no jury trials in District Court. In other words, the judge, rather than a jury, will hear the evidence and render a verdict. There are 131 district courts in Virginia.

The Circuit Court has jurisdiction over felony criminal cases and certain misdemeanor offenses that were originally charged in circuit court. The Circuit Court also has jurisdiction over juveniles age 14 and older who are charged with felonies and whose cases have been transferred. The circuit court system is composed of 31 judicial circuits with 120 separate circuit courts in the State.

What Happens After the Arraignment?

The next court date depends on the seriousness of the charges.

For a Felony charge, you will have a Preliminary Hearing date, followed by a Grand Jury hearing.

For a Misdemeanor charge, in most cases (except some DUI cases), the case moves to a Trial date (see below). However, just because it is a trial date, that doesn’t mean you will absolutely be going to trial. There is still time at the trial date to negotiate a plea and work out a deal.

In DUI, drug, other other cases, the next court date may be a discovery date, where matters concerning breath test, blood test, or drug certification issues are addressed.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

In felony cases, after the arrest and bail hearing, a preliminary hearing is conducted. The preliminary hearing determines whether there is probable cause to believe that the person has committed the crime with which he/she is charged. If probable is found then the case is sent to the Grand Jury.

What is a Grand Jury? What Does it Have to Do With my Case?

Essentially, a Grand Jury determines whether there is probable cause to believe that the person accused has committed the crime charged in the indictment and should stand trial. This happens in cases where individuals are charged with felonies. In most cases, the Grand Jury hears evidence after a probable cause hearing in district court.

For example, you are arrested and charged with armed robbery, a felony. You will be arraigned in district court. In the meantime, a grand jury will convene. The Commonwealth’s attorney will present evidence to the Grand Jury that shows that you committed that crime. Based on that evidence, the Grand Jury will decide whether there is enough (a standard of probable cause) to charge you.

If the Grand Jury determines that there is probable cause, then an indictment will be issued and your case will move to Circuit Court. An indictment is the formal document that charges the defendant with the crime.

In the majority of cases, the grand jury does issue an indictment. At this point you would then face the prospect of a jury trial in circuit court.

After the indictment is issued the defendant will be arraigned in circuit court.

What Happens Next?

Assuming that your case has not been disposed of by a plea agreement or dismissal, you will have a trial.

What is a Trial?

A trial is the most recognizable part of the case, because trials are often portrayed on television. However, most cases do not go to trial; and those that do are not nearly as dramatic as those shown on film.

Misdemeanor Trials

A trial for a misdemeanor is a less formal event. It is usually held in District Court, often with a police prosecutor instead of a district attorney, and is in front of a judge, in a bench trial, not a jury trial. The judge hears the evidence, and rules on guilt or innocence.

Felony Trials

At trial your attorney will help select a jury from a larger pool of potential jurors. This is called voir dire. After the jury has been selected, the Commonwealth’s attorney and the defense attorney give their “opening statements” to the jury. After opening statements the Commonwealth begins its case. It does this by introducing evidence; witnesses testify. This is called direct examination. After each witness has testified directly, the defense attorney has a right to ask questions of the witness; this is called “cross examination.”

When the Commonwealth finishes putting on its case, the defense may introduce its own evidence. Oftentimes, however, the defense doesn’t do this – the reason being that it might not be necessary. The Commonwealth has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; the defense may have a better chance at a favorable disposition by simply holding the Commonwealth to its burden, rather then put on its own witnesses.

Arrested? Free Consultation on Your Case

If you are accused of a crime in Virginia, and wonder what is going to happen to you, call us now to schedule a no-obligation, no-risk, free consultation at (877) 439-2999. We will happily give you some specific advice on what you are facing in court on your charges, and how we can help you.


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