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Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal defense in Virginia is based on building a solid defense against allegations of a misdemeanor or felony crime, which may include drug crimes, DUI or DWI charges, rape and other sex crimes, fraud and money crimes, property offenses, traffic offenses, domestic abuse allegations, murder and other violent crimes, and identity theft and related identity crimes.

Misdemeanor Offenses

A misdemeanor offense is less serious than a felony matter.   There are four classes of misdemeanor offenses in Virginia (Code of Virginia § 18.2-9). In Virginia, the most serious class of misdemeanors is punishable by no more than twelve months of jail time and a $2,500.00 fine, either or both. Some acts may be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the particular factual circumstances of the offense, such as the value of an item taken or damaged, the class of the victim, or the number of previous similar offenses

• Class I Misdemeanor – A Class I Misdemeanor is the most serious of the misdemeanor crimes in Virginia. Common class 1 misdemeanors include assault, trespassing, possession of Schedule III/IV drugs,, DUI, domestic assault, driving with a suspended license, reckless driving, and petty larceny.

Possible Punishments: A maximum of twelve (12) months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

• Class II Misdemeanor – A class 2 Misdemeanor is less serious than a class 1 misdemeanor, but it could still result in a loss of liberty and a significant fine.  Driving without a Valid Operator’s license, (1st offense) is perhaps the most common of the class 2 misdemeanors, which also include some obstruction offenses and similar licensing offenses.

Possible Punishments: No more than six (6) months of jail time and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

• Class III Misdemeanor –  The next step down in severity is the class 3 misdemeanor.   Class 3 misdemeanors do not carry the potential loss of liberty and are generally restricted to regulatory and licensing enforcement matters, often involving forestry, livestock or sales. .

Possible Punishments: No jail time is involved. Fines are not to exceed $500.

• Class IV Misdemeanor – A Class IV Misdemeanor is the least serious of the offenses that may be considered a misdemeanor in Virginia.  The most common class 4 misdemeanor offense is Virginia Code Section 18.2-388, the statute for public intoxication, or “drunk in public,” which also includes public swearing or profane gestures.

Possible Punishments: No jail time is involved.  Fines are not to exceed $250.

Unclassified Misdemeanors

Some misdemeanor offenses have special limits on punishments, and these are commonly known as unclassified misdemeanors. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-12).  For example, possession of marijuana (1st offense) is an unclassified misdemeanor, but 2nd offense is a class 1 misdemeanor.

Felony Offenses

A felony is a more serious crime punishable in Virginia by life imprisonment in a federal or state prison or death. The minimum amount of jail time associated with a felony in Virgina is one year, along with a possible fine. There are six basic classes of felony offenses in Virginia (Code of Virginia § 18.2-9 and § 18.2-10).

• Class I Felony – A Class I Felony is the most serious of the felony charges in Virgina. This may include murder, rape, serious cases of assault, and serious financial crimes.

Possible Punishments: Imprisonment for life and/or a minimum fine of $100,000.

• Class II Felony – A Class II Felony is a lesser degree of a crime classified as Class I felony. This may include manslaughter and bigamy.

Possible Punishment: Prison time of at least 20 years to life and/or fines not to exceed $100,000.

• Class III Felony – A lesser degree of offenses from previous classes.

Possible Punishments: Prison time of at least five years and no more than 20 years and/or fines not to exceed $100,000.

• Class IV Felony – A lesser degree of offenses from previous classes.

Possible Punishment: Prison time of at least two years and no more than ten years and/or fines not to exceed $100,000.

• Class V Felony – A lesser degree of offenses from previous classes.

Possible Punishments: Jail time of at least one year and no more than ten years of prison time and/or fines not to exceed $2,500.

• Class VI Felony – The least serious felony charge that may apply in Virginia.

Possible Punishments: Jail time of at least one year and no more than five years of prison time and/or fines not to exceed $2,500.

Jail Time vs. Prison Time

Virginia distinguishes between jail time and prison time. Jail time is usually served at a county facility supervised by the local sheriff’s department. Jail time is given for misdemeanor offenses and is any period of time up to twelve (12) months in duration. Prison time is overseen by the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) and is the time associated with felony offenses.  Depending on local rules, certain felony offenses may be served locally, but any felony sentence in excess of one (1) year is to be governed by the Department of Corrections.  Other specific rules regarding the percentage of time to be served also comes into play  on a case by case basis.

Juvenile vs. Adult Charges

In cases involving an individual aged 14 or older and still under 18 years of age, a criminal defense attorney may argue for the individual to be charged as a juvenile rather than an adult (Code of Virginia § 16.1-269.1). This determination is based on the seriousness of the crime and any prior offenses the individual may have committed.

A Virginia criminal defense attorney can help sort through the various degrees of misdemeanor and felony criminal charges. This process includes determining the best defense against charges, challenging evidence, securing witnesses, negotiations to attempt to get charges reduced or dropped, and arguing for a case to be tried as a juvenile offense rather than an adult offense.