June 13, 2024


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Virginia Jury Trials for Felony and Misdemeanor Criminal Cases

Virginia Jury Sentencing Reform | The Law Office of Ann Thayer, PLLC

If you are charged with a felony in Virginia you have the right to demand a jury trial. Felonies carry serious consequences like imprisonment and large fines and convictions are permanent on your record.

The first court hearing in legal criminal cases in Virginia is the arraignment. This is when you will be read the charges against you and given the opportunity to retain or waive an attorney.

Grand jury

The grand jury process is one of the more unique features of the United States criminal justice system. Unlike regular juries, grand juries determine whether or not there is probable cause to charge a person with a crime.

A grand jury hearing is usually secret, and the prosecutor only presents limited facts about the case to them. The Grand Jury will then decide if there is probable cause and will issue a true bill of indictment.

If there is sufficient evidence to charge you with a felony, your case will then move from general district court to circuit court for trial proceedings. Typically, there will be a preliminary hearing before this occurs to determine whether or not probable cause exists. If a judge finds probable cause, a formal arraignment is scheduled and trial dates are set.

Bench warrants

A court can issue a bench warrant for your arrest if you miss a court date or fail to comply with other pre-trial conditions. Police can arrest you if they spot you or run your name through their database and find the outstanding warrant.

A qualified Virginia criminal attorney will make every effort to have the warrant withdrawn before you are arrested. He or she will work to prove that there were unforeseen circumstances that prevented you from attending the original court hearing.

On the other hand, a defendant can also choose to waive their right to a preliminary hearing and instead proceed straight to trial. In this case, the judge will decide whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed. This decision will likely stand unless it is overturned on appeal.

Preliminary hearings

The Arraignment hearing is a day where the Judge tells you what you are charged with and sets your Preliminary Hearing date. He also asks you if you plan to hire your own attorney or if you will seek a court appointed attorney.

The Preliminary Hearing is a chance for the Defense to challenge whether there is sufficient evidence to move forward with the case. The Prosecutor is required to put on only enough evidence at the hearing to convince the judge that there is probable cause to believe that you committed the offense.

Circuit courts handle felonies and civil cases involving larger monetary claims, and the Supreme Court handles appeals of decisions by lower levels of state court. Felonies are considered more serious than misdemeanors and carry stiffer penalties.

Plea bargaining

In Virginia, a court may impose serious penalties even for someone who appears without an attorney. In some cases, people get summons to appear in general district court for misdemeanors like reckless driving or trespass. It is important to work with a knowledgeable criminal lawyer in your case to protect your rights.

Felonies are the most serious crimes in Virginia and carry penalties that range from fines to life imprisonment. Defendants may engage in fact bargaining with the prosecution by agreeing to plead guilty to one or more charges in exchange for a reduction of the penalty.

Felonies are also appealed to the state’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. These appeals look primarily for technical errors that could have affected the outcome of a trial.


In Virginia, criminal trials are held in a General District Court. This court decides all cases involving the ordinances, laws, and by-laws of the city or county as well as misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

During a trial, the judge listens to the evidence and makes a determination on whether or not the defendant is guilty. A jury may not be present in a case that is heard in a General District Court.

An individual can appeal a decision made by the General District or Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to the Circuit Court. This appeal is different from an appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals or the Virginia Supreme Court and does not result in a new trial.