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The Virginia Felony Process

A felony is a serious crime against the state and is usually punishable by at least a year in prison, a fine, or both. In Virginia, felony crimes include rape, murder, kidnapping, arson, and burglary. If you are arrested for committing a felony in Virginia, you will want to develop an understanding of Virginia criminal law and the felony process.

The Search

The Virginia felony process begins with the search. This is when the police are trying to find enough evidence against you so they have probable cause. Probable cause means that the officer has a reasonable belief that you have committed a crime.

This search may or may not require a search warrant. A search warrant is a document from a judge that allows investigators to search someones property.

There are a number of situations in which a search warrant is not needed. For example, if you are arrested, the officer has a right to search you without a warrant. The same goes for cases in which you are arrested in your car. The officer then has the right to search your vehicle without a warrant. Also, if you give the officer permission to conduct a search or if the officer has a strong reason to believe evidence is at risk of being destroyed, a warrant may be waived.

The Virginia Felony Arrest

Once an officer has established probable cause, he or she can arrest you. At the time of arrest, you have several constitutional rights you may choose to exercise.

  • The right to remain silent: You do not have to answer questions from investigators. This right exists to protect you from self-incrimination.
  • The right to an attorney: You may call your Virginia criminal defense attorney. This attorney may be present during questioning.
  • The right to have an attorney appointed: If you cannot afford a criminal lawyer, you can have one appointed to you. This lawyer is known as a public defender.

Attempting a Plea Bargain

You and your attorney will have an opportunity to negotiate with the prosecution. This negotiation process is known as plea bargaining. During plea bargaining, the prosecution will put forth a deal where you admit guilt to lesser charges in exchange for a lighter sentence. This allows you to bypass trial. You should discuss with your Virginia criminal defense lawyer the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain.

The Arraignment

Within three days after arrest, you will have your arraignment. An arraignment is when you appear in court to give your plea. You may plead guilty, not guilty, no contest, or mute.

Guilty and not guilty are fairly self-explanatory. With the former, you are saying you committed the crime, and with the latter, you are claiming you didnt do it.

No contest means that you are not admitting guilt. However, you are also not disputing the facts of the case. This plea is often used when a related civil trial is anticipated.

Mute means you do not enter a plea so as to not agree to the correctness of the Virginia felony process up to that point. The court will then enter a not guilty plea, and you will have the opportunity to dispute the felony process in court.

The Virginia Felony Trial

You have the right to a speedy trial in Virginia. If you have been accused of committing a felony and you are incarcerated, you will have a trial within five months of your arrest. If you are not in custody, your trial will take place within nine months.

You also have the right to a jury trial; however, you may choose to waive this right by either pleading guilty or by asking for a bench trial. A bench trial is when you have a trial in front of a judge only.

Both sides will get the opportunity to present their evidence and witnesses to prove their cases. At the end of the trial, the jury will make its decision of guilty or not guilty.

If you are found guilty, you will have 30 days to file an appeal.