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Criminal Law FAQs

Can I get a lawyer for a bond hearing only?

  • Under some circumstances. Often a judge will require an attorney to continue representation through to its conclusion, even though the attorney was only hired for a bond hearing.

I was convicted of a misdemeanor in general district court. Can I appeal?

  • Absolutely. In Virginia, general district court is not a "court of record". You may appeal your conviction and be tried anew in circuit court as though the previous trial never happened.

I was convicted in circuit court. Can I appeal?

  • If you are convicted in circuit court, you must ask an appellate court to accept your appeal. They will only accept an appeal if they believe the case contained some sort of legal error, usually a technical error. The appellate courts of Virginia will not accept an appeal based upon your assertion of innocence, nor will they re-decide which witnesses to believe.

I was charged with a misdemeanor in general district court. What can I expect?

  • If the commonwealth's attorney is not asking for you to serve time in jail, you may not be entitled to a court-appointed lawyer. If you are not entitled to court-appointed counsel, you are still given an opportunity to hire an attorney to represent you. You will be tried in general district court. If you are not satisfied with the result, you may appeal to circuit court as though the general district court case had never happened.

I was charged with a felony in general district court. What can I expect?

  • First Appearance
    • Your first appearance before the court should be to determine if you are able to hire an attorney. If you have already hired an attorney, the attorney will contact the court and the first appearance may not be necessary.
  • Preliminary Hearing
    • Next you will appear for a preliminary hearing. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to make an early determination as to whether it is possible you committed the charged offense. The judge ONLY listens to the prosecutor's evidence in making this determination; the judge does not decide if witnesses are telling the truth. In most felony cases, the judge finds the evidence is sufficient and sends the case to the grand jury for the next stage. Some felonies are reduced to misdemeanors in general district court and resolved. An experienced defense attorney will often use a preliminary hearing to gather information about your case and to commit the witnesses to a particular version of events.
  • Grand Jury
    • The grand jury, like the judge at the preliminary hearing, only hears the prosecution's evidence. The grand jury generally only hears from one witness, the police officer, who provides a summary of their report. The grand jury issues an indictment which forms the basis for the case in circuit court. Circuit court is where most felonies are eventually resolved.

I was charged with a crime in federal court. What can I expect?

  • Trial Procedure
    • Your first appearance will be to determine if you may remain out on bond while the case is pending. Most drug offenses carry a statutory presumption that you should not be released, although there are exceptions. A trial date will be set within approximately 70 days, so the case will proceed much more quickly that would a state court case. In the Western District of Virginia, the U. S. Attorney's office generally will provide your lawyer with copies of all documents relating to the investigation and prosecution.
  • Sentencing
    • Federal offenses are governed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. It is important that your lawyer be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the sentencing guidelines from the beginning of your case. An average two-point "add-on" to the description of an offense can add six months to a sentence.

I was charged with assault and battery after I brought charges against the other person. Do I need a lawyer?

  • Assault and battery is a class one misdemeanor which carries a maximum possible penalty of 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500. You should have an attorney to protect your rights, even though you believe the charge will be dismissed

Can I see the medical records, phone records, or other records of the complaining witness before court?

  • This sort of record can often be subpoenaed in advance. You will need some basic information before the subpoena can be issued.

A detective called me about a criminal investigation. Should I go talk to him?

  • The answer is the same whether you know anything about the offense or not – never talk to the police in an ongoing investigation without a lawyer. Your lawyer can often find out a great deal of information from calling the detective in advance, including whether they believe you are a suspect or whether they simply want to eliminate you as a possible source. Forward the name and telephone number of the detective to your attorney.

The detective told me he would help me in court or said he wouldn't prosecute if I talk to him. Should I talk to him?

  • See below regarding whether law enforcement can lie to you.

The police lied to me to get me to do or say something. Can they do that?

  • Yes. The U. S. Supreme Court has stated it is ok for police to lie to citizens. You, however, cannot lie to a police officer, as giving a false statement to law enforcement is a crime.

A police officer wants to search me/my car/ my home. Do I have a choice?

  • Yes! Often officers will say they have probable cause to search and then ask for permission. You can and should say no. If the officer really has probable cause to search, he doesn't need your permission. Once you give permission, the search is legal.

I have been picked up for questioning. What should I do?

  • You must be very clear in telling the officer you do not want to speak to them without a lawyer present. "I do not want to speak with you. I want a lawyer." Repeat if necessary.

Contact Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico Today

We invite you to contact our Roanoke attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico regarding your difficult legal matters. Call 540-343-9349, or visit our Contact page to schedule a confidential consultation at our law office in Roanoke, Virginia. Our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with after hours and weekends by appointment. We serve clients in the Roanoke valley and throughout southwest Virginia. Spanish translation available upon request.