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What Do You Do if You Are On Trial For a Crime in Virginia?

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, persons charged with criminal offenses are notified at the point of arrest or via a court summons. Upon arrest, the accused is required to attend a preliminary hearing. The offense class determines the court where the person charged with the offense appears. However, preliminary hearings are typically held in the District Court.

In some cases, a bond hearing holds before a first appearance or preliminary hearing. At the bond hearing, the magistrate will consider the accused’s criminal history and other factors to determine whether they are eligible to be released on bail. If bail is granted, it may be revoked if the party involved violates the bond’s conditions.

At the preliminary hearing, the judge informs the arrested or indicted person of the charges or indictments and the rights provided by the law. Alleged criminals have the right to an attorney, especially where the offense is punishable by imprisonment. The court may appoint an attorney to persons who cannot afford to hire one.

Also, the court determines whether there is sufficient evidence for a trial at the preliminary hearing. If the court determines that there is enough evidence, then the case will be moved to trial. In Virginia, the Circuit Court hears felony cases, while the District Court hears misdemeanor cases.

What Percentage of Criminal Cases go to Trial in Virginia?

In 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia received 1,782 petitions filed, out of which the court decided 1,697 cases. The number of decided cases decreased by 15.1% between 2013 and 2017, while the number of petitions filed reduced by 13.1%. In the Court of Appeals, 2,104 cases were filed in the year 2017, a 14.9% decrease from the number of cases filed between 2013 and 2017.

In 2020, Circuit courts in Virginia have had 108,940 criminal case filings, a 24% decrease from the 188,019 filings in 2019. Of the cases filed in 2020, there have been 105,195 dispositions, a 25% decrease from the previous year.

Virginia General District Courts have recorded a total of 1,287,067 criminal case filings and 1,199,978 dispositions. Criminal offenses make up 15.1% of the District Court caseload and 14.9% of the case dispositions.

When Does a Criminal Defendant Have the Right to a Trial?

The Virginia Constitution (Article 1 Section 8) provides that all persons charged with criminal offenses have the right to trial. If a person is charged with a criminal offense in Virginia, the person has the right to know the nature and cause of the alleged violation. Additionally, the person has a right to confront the accusers and witnesses in court and present evidence that disproves the criminal charges. Without a unanimous jury verdict, the alleged offender cannot be found guilty in Virginia. A jury typically comprises no more than 12 and no less than five (5) members.

Any person charged with a criminal offense in Virginia may waive the right to a jury trial. The right of an accused person to a fair and speedy trial comes into play at the arraignment. At the arraignment, the criminal charges are read aloud to the accused person (Va. Code § 19.2–254).. The accused person may then enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the accused person enters a guilty or no contest plea, and where the accused enters a plea deal, the case may not go to trial.

What are the Stages of a Criminal Trial in Virginia?

Criminal Trials in Virginia are in the following stages:

  • Opening arguments
  • Witness testimonies
  • Cross-examination of witnesses
  • Evidence presentation
  • Closing arguments
  • Jury charge
  • Jury verdict
  • Sentencing hearing

How Long Does it Take For a Case to Go to Trial in Virginia?

Trial timelines vary according to the severity of the offense, the processes involved in the case, and, sometimes, the court’s schedule. Some processes, such as discovery, may take more time than others. Additionally, continuances or adjournments may increase trial timelines.

Generally, misdemeanors take about three to four months to go to trial, while felony cases take longer. Most felony cases take no less than six months to go to trial, and some take up to 12 months.

What Happens When a Court Case Goes to Trial in Virginia?

Depending on the nature of the offense and the defendant’s preference, criminal case trials can either be jury or bench trials. At jury trials, a panel of no more than 12 randomly selected citizens decides the verdict and sentence in a case. Bench trials, on the other hand, involve only judges.

After all pre-trial motions, such as discovery and deposition, are complete, criminal case trials begin with opening statements from the defendant’s attorney and the Commonwealth’s attorney, who serves as the prosecutor. Witness testimony and direct examination follow opening statements. Here, the witnesses for the defense and prosecution provide testimonies and are directly examined. After direct examination, the defense and the prosecution cross-examine each other’s witnesses.

The prosecution and defense present evidence and deliver closing arguments. At jury trials, the jury goes into deliberation after the closing arguments and delivers a verdict. At bench trials, the judge delivers a sentence after considering all the facts of the case. In Virginia, sentence hearings are different from trials; in some cases, sentence hearings hold long after the trial.

Can you be Put on Trial Twice for the Same Crime in Virginia?

No, a person cannot be put on trial twice for the same crime in Virginia. Article 1 Section 8 of the Virginia constitution protects accused persons against double jeopardy. It states that anyone charged with a criminal offense cannot be put in jeopardy twice for the same crime, and the person cannot be required to provide self-incriminating evidence. Va. Code § 19.2–294 also protects Virginia defendants against dual or concurrent prosecution. As such, if an action constitutes an offense under more than one criminal statute, then it can only be tried under only one criminal statute. However, if a criminal act constitutes an offense under common law and statutory law, it may be tried as two separate offenses.

Additionally, the United States Constitution (U.S. Const. amend.V) also offers provisions against double jeopardy. However, if a criminal act constitutes a violation of the laws of more than one sovereign body, such as two different states, the act may be tried in the separate sovereigns.

How Do I Lookup a Criminal Court Case in Virginia?

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act guarantees public access to court records. Interested parties may obtain criminal court cases by visiting the court’s record custodian where the case was heard. It is also possible to lookup criminal court cases through government websites such as the Circuit Court Case Information and General District Court Online Case Information System and third-party websites

How to Access Electronic Court Records in Virginia

The Virginia Judicial System provides electronic access to court records through the Circuit Court Case Information system and the General District Court Online Case Information System. The systems allow users to search criminal records using:

  • Hearing date
  • Case number
  • Case name
  • Name of Court
  • Case division

Information about detention and protective orders, medical emergency custody, and involuntary commitment is not available through the electronic access systems.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile.
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Remove Public Court Records in Virginia?

Interested parties may remove public court records through expungement or sealing. In Virginia, expungement is the same as sealing. Expunged records are restricted from general access and may only be obtained through a court order.

There are very few provisions for expungement in Virginia. A party may apply for expungement if:

  • The defendant was wrongfully charged.
  • The charges against the defender are dismissed or not prosecuted.
  • The offender is granted a pardon for a wrongful conviction.
  • The defendant’s name or identification is used without consent or wrongly used.

Parties interested in expunging criminal records must file a petition at the court where the case was heard. The requesting party must file the petition together with case files such as summons, indictment, and warrants. Only the court can grant an order of expungement.

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