If you are facing criminal charges in Fairfax, you may be overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed. Although the process can be confusing, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may lighten your burden. An attorney could work with judges and prosecutors to resolve your case to the extent possible.
Depending on what level of court their case is going to be heard in—either Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (if someone is under 18 or if the offense involves a domestic situation) or the General District Court (if is the person is an adult over the age of 18 and no children are involved)—the process will differ.
In either case, if someone has an offense that carries the possibility of jail time, then the court will probably set an arraignment date to make sure that they have an attorney working on their case. If they do not have an attorney, they can apply for one either through the court-appointed program or by requesting time to retain counsel.
The court will bring the person in for an arraignment, at which time the person will be advised as to exactly what the charges are and that they have a right to an attorney. The defendant will also be given a court date for a preliminary hearing, an appointed attorney date to make sure that the person has somebody assigned to their case, or a trial date.
From there, the case will be set for either a preliminary hearing (in the case of a felony offense) or for the trial process for general district court, and the defense attorney will be working to try to obtain evidence.
In Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, arraignments are usually heard on Friday. The court will give the person an opportunity to apply for counsel if necessary, or will go ahead and set a court date and let the person retain an attorney between now and then.
If someone is charged with a misdemeanor offense in Fairfax, they should know that depending on which misdemeanor they are charged with, they could be sentenced up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.
If the misdemeanor is a driving offense, there could be license suspension, participation in an Alcohol and Safety Action Program (ASAP), or other consequences that come along with a fine.
Fairfax County is such a big county that every misdemeanor is frequent. The General District Court handles a few of the following cases ever single day of the week:
If somebody is charged with a felony in Fairfax, they should understand a couple of things. Number one, they will need an attorney. A felony is not something one would ever want to try to defend themselves. It is important to either apply for a court-appointed attorney when the court gives them an opportunity to do so, or to hire an attorney prior to their arraignment.
For a felony offense, the court will set a preliminary hearing date. For General District Court cases, those are heard at 2:00 PM. The prosecution’s duty at the preliminary hearing is to present enough evidence to show the judge that they can move forward with the case and certify the case up to the grand jury and ultimately up to circuit court for trial.
The prosecutor does not have to present their entire case. In most circumstances, they do not have to present more than one witness. Preliminary hearings are usually very short, but it is a person’s right to hear what evidence they are using as a basis for the charge. Also, at the preliminary hearing in General District Court, the prosecution may amend the charge down to a misdemeanor offense. At that point, a person can enter a plea to their misdemeanor offense and avoid circuit court.
A lot of different things can happen with a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the type of felony. Generally, the preliminary hearing is something that will occur at 2:00 PM on whatever the docket day is and at that point in time the prosecution will be attempting to provide evidence in their case to certify it up to the grand jury.
Felonies that are frequently seen in Fairfax can include:
Facing a felony is different than a misdemeanor because a felony convict can face anything from simple probation up to life in prison, or potentially the death penalty. Sentencing maximums depend upon the type of felony, the person’s criminal record and what the maximum penalty is for their offense. A felony offense in Virginia also causes someone to lose their right to vote.
Convicted felons may not qualify for federal types of aid, including educational purposes; may become ineligible for federal assistance (food stamps and Medicaid); and may have difficulty finding housing or employment. A felony conviction in Virginia also causes someone to lose their right to carry a firearm. All those things are at risk when someone is charged with a felony, in addition to whatever the penalties are associated to the specific crime.
There is not going to be a uniform answer as to what their first appearance in court is going to be like. Usually, the first appearance in court is going to be the arraignment where the judge tells the defendant exactly what they are charged with and determines if they are able to get an attorney. Often the first appearance in court is going to be a bond motion if they are being held. That depends upon the facts of the case and the specific charges. A person would need to retain an attorney to find out what the process will look like for them.
A defendant’s first court date can vary widely in nature and substance depending on:
A defendant should expect the process to take a while because Fairfax is not a quick jurisdiction. If someone has a case that is set for 9:30, chances are they will have to sit in a courtroom for a significant period of time, depending on how big the docket is. The dockets are usually quite large.
The most important thing that an individual should know about facing charges in Fairfax is that they need an attorney. The court is complicated enough, and Fairfax is more complicated than most courthouses because of the revolving roster of prosecutors and judges. There are many prosecutors and judges with different personalities and different approaches to cases.
Add into that the number of crimes an individual can be charged with and the potential evidence that could help or hurt their case, and it is a complicated interaction with the criminal justice system. An individual should also expect Fairfax County not to take offenses lightly. The state might have a lot of cases, but they are going to prosecute each one.
In some cases, a defendant may be charged with conspiracy or attempt to commit a certain crime. Conspiracy means that there is more than one person involved in a plan to commit a crime. An attempt to commit a crime means that an individual has taken some action in furtherance thereof, and that they had the intent to commit a crime but they did not actually follow through. Attempt and conspiracy are usually treated the same way as the underlying crime, so the sentence is going to depend on the specific facts of the case.
In Virginia, the state treats attempt cases the same way as if the individual was convicted of the underlying crime. They would have the same guidelines for sentencing and the potential consequences as an actual committed crime.
The biggest mistakes to avoid when facing criminal charges is not hiring an attorney and speaking with police officers about the case. Not having an attorney really prejudices a defendant. They will not have the information they need to defend themselves when they approach a case by themselves, and they will not be able to represent themselves at trial as zealously as an attorney could.
Individuals should not make statements to anybody about their case. They should not try to argue with the judge about what they think the facts of their case are. A judge is going to tell the individual they do not want to hear anything about this until they speak with an attorney and anything that the individual says to them could potentially be used against the individual later on.
If you face criminal charges in Fairfax, you should not risk appearing in court without representation. Many people accused of crimes believe they can handle their case alone, but the unfortunate reality is that unrepresented individuals are at a serious disadvantage. One small misstatement to police could inadvertently forfeit your rights and give them evidence against you.
A skilled criminal defense attorney could help protect your rights and fight for your interests at every step of the case. For sound legal advice and advocacy, call today and schedule a consultation.