Manassas Criminal Lawyer
Being investigated or arrested for a crime can set off a chain of events that can haunt you for years to come. Felony charges are potentially punishable by decades in prison, while misdemeanors — such as most drug possession, DUI, and reckless driving charges in the Commonwealth of Virginia – can result in significant fines and several months or years in jail.
Though you may be overwhelmed by the challenges you now face, you could find peace of mind by hiring a Manassas criminal lawyer. A dedicated defense attorney could protect your rights and fight for your best interests at every stage of the case.
When do the Police Make an Arrest?
In simple terms, the police make an arrest when they believe a crime has taken place. This can be the result of a police officer personally witnessing an offense or a judge issuing an arrest warrant. Regardless of the exact procedure used to justify an arrest, the law behind this police power is much more complicated. Reasonable suspicion and probable cause play a crucial role in determining whether a police officer is justified to make an arrest.
Reasonable suspicion is a bare minimum standard that allows police officers to stop people in public. Examples include:
- A driver swerving lanes
- A person stumbling in public
- A person running with apparently stolen property.
An officer who has reasonable suspicion of a crime can stop a person and perform a frisk to search for weapons.
It is important to remember that a stop is not an arrest. While police officers can detain a person for questioning at the scene of an apparent offense, this does not count as a formal arrest.
To justify a formal arrest, or to gain permission to execute a warrant, law enforcement must have probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred or that evidence of a crime is in a specific area. Probable cause is a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion, and police officers must be able to provide specific details as to why they believe a person has committed a crime.
These classifications are crucial to a criminal case. If a police officer performs a stop, search, or arrest without the proper legal justification, all evidence resulting from that action may be inadmissible at trial. A Manassas criminal defense attorney could provide more information about law enforcement’s ability to stop and arrest civilians.
What Typically Happens After an Arrest?
People usually view an arrest as the start of their legal troubles. While an arrest is certainly a valid reason for concern, it is important to remember that it will not automatically result in criminal charges.
Police officers can use an arrest as a tool to gain more evidence but need probable cause to do so. The evidence that they have at the time of the arrest may not be enough to result in a conviction in court. Prosecutors should only file formal charges if they believe that they can secure a conviction in court.
It is essential to understand what happens after an arrest. Police officers take a series of photographs, known as mugshots. They will also take a person’s fingerprints.
Police often attempt to gain further evidence through questioning. However, speaking with police is not required and could yield negative results. A defendant has the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during all questioning.
In certain other cases, usually those involving allegations concerning the influence of alcohol or drugs, police officers can send a suspect to the hospital for blood testing, and the defendant must comply.
After most arrests, a person will remain in custody until the arraignment. For minor charges, such as some misdemeanors, a police officer may release a defendant with a summons or call on the services of a bail commissioner to determine conditions of release. A Manassas attorney could provide protection to those still in police custody after an arrest on criminal charges.
Facing a Criminal Charge in Manassas, Virginia
Criminal charges filed in Manassas fall under the state penal code and are prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies. While some acts fall clearly into one area or the other, many offenses — such as theft or DUI — can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the violation.
Enhancing factors may include the value of stolen property in a theft case, whether a weapon was used in an assault case, or whether the crime was a first offense or a repeat offense in a DUI case.
Examples of criminal charges a Manassas attorney could help with include but are not limited to:
- Domestic Violence
- Drug Crimes
- Gun Crimes
- Prostitution and Solicitation
- Reckless Driving
- Sex Crimes
- Child Pornography
- Federal Crimes
What a Prosecutor Needs to Prove to Secure a Conviction
In every criminal case, a prosecutor must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. In simple terms, this means showing that any reasonable person would believe, considering the evidence in the case, that the defendant committed the charges alleged in the complaint.
The exact nature of this evidence will vary on a case by case basis. Every criminal charge has its own elements, and a failure to prove every one of these elements must result in an acquittal.
Most criminal charges have an action portion and an intent portion. For example, in a charge involving assault and battery, a prosecutor must demonstrate that not only did the defendant cause harm to another person, but their actions were intended to cause that harm. As a result, a defendant’s attorney may argue that while the harm did occur, the defendant did not intend for it to occur.
In some cases, a defendant’s intent is irrelevant. Allegations involving drunk driving, possession of illegal drugs, and possession of other types of contraband can result in conviction when a prosecutor shows only that the incident occurred.
The goal of a local criminal lawyer is to secure a favorable outcome in a defendant’s case, whether this involves negotiations with the prosecutor or arguments in trial.
What Happens in a Consultation with a Defense Attorney?
Some of the first questions that a Manassas criminal lawyer may ask are:
- What have you been charged with?
- What do you believe the government can prove?
Instead of first asking for an account of what happened, an attorney may ask a defendant what they think the government could prove, so they can immediately understand what evidence the government may have.
The government’s evidence doesn’t always align with what really happened. A lawyer needs to know both sides of the story and would prefer to hear the evidence before anything else to get a broader perspective of the case.
Investigating a Case to Build a Strong Defense
During consultations, individuals often want to know how they can avoid conviction or what is going to happen to them. A local defense attorney may be able to offer a defendant a fair estimate of what could happen in their case.
In other cases, a lawyer would need to do more investigation on their own. Often, this means doing discovery, talking to witnesses, talking to the police officers involved, and then ultimately speaking to the prosecutor handling the case. There can be a lot of variables involved in the criminal prosecution that an attorney may not know at the initial intake.
It can take time to let the investigation of these cases mature to a point where a criminal defense lawyer in the area can have a good grasp of all of the facts from both perspectives. An attorney could then be better equipped to make an accurate prediction of what is likely to occur in a case. When speaking to a criminal attorney in Manassas, it is important to make sure they are offering a prediction based on the case’s specific facts. The more an attorney knows about the evidence, the more qualified they will be to speak on possible outcomes.
Where Cases Are Heard
The General District Court, located at 9311 Lee Avenue in Manassas, Virginia, is where most criminal charges within the county are heard. The court has five judges and, in addition to criminal matters, hears civil cases and violations of town ordinances or municipal code violations. If you are facing a felony or appealing a misdemeanor, your case will eventually be heard in the Prince William County Circuit Court.
Working to Help Individuals During an Arraignment
The first time a criminal defendant appears in court is during a session called the arraignment. The arraignment serves three purposes. The first is to formally enter the charges into the record. The court does this automatically, and the defendant is merely an observer.
The second purpose is to set a court date. For misdemeanors, your next court date will be your trial date. For felonies, your next date will be a preliminary hearing.
Finally, an arraignment serves as the chance for the court to determine whether you qualify for a court-appointed lawyer or if you want to hire an attorney yourself.
On occasion, the court will also address the matter of bail. Many minor charges result in a finding of personal recognizance, which means that the defendant is free to return home as long as they do not face an arrest for an additional charge. Other cases see a prosecutor recommending bail. Here, a defendant must provide cash or bond to secure their release and the court holds this money until the case resolves.
In both instances, bail or release can come with conditions. A release always requires a defendant to stay out of trouble. However, release can also include a no-contact order, a requirement to refrain from drug or alcohol use, or a requirement to submit to a mental health evaluation.
The Right to a Fair Trial
No matter the exact nature of criminal charges, every defendant has the right to a trial. Misdemeanors tried in District Court consist of bench trials where the judge makes the final decision concerning possible guilt. Felonies have the option of being tried before juries comprised of members of the community. A defendant always has the opportunity to participate in choosing a jury, and if an impartial jury cannot be seated, the case will be postponed until a later date.
Regardless of who will decide on the issue of guilt, every trial will take the same basic form. The prosecutor will start with an opening statement and the defendant’s attorney will have an opportunity to reply. The prosecutor then presents their case. This includes calling witnesses who can provide testimony and authenticate documentary evidence, as well as experts who can opine concerning scientific evidence. A defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine every witness.
Once the prosecutor has finished calling their witnesses, a defendant has the same chance. They can even testify on their own behalf, but under no circumstance must a defendant take the stand. Much like when the prosecutor calls witnesses, every defense witness is subject to cross examination.
When all witnesses have provided their testimony, a defense attorney has the chance for a closing statement, followed by the prosecutor. The jury then enters deliberations. These talks can last from an hour or two up to a few days. The jury’s decision must be unanimous. If the jury cannot decide unanimously, it is hung, and a new trial takes place. A local criminal attorney could use their trial skills to fight for a favorable resolution in court.
Look for a Manassas Criminal Attorney with Local Experience
As you stand before the court, it is important to have experienced legal representation by your side. Finding a dedicated Manassas criminal lawyer who has ties to the area could be critical in preparing for all of the possible challenges and complications that may arise in your case. That local experience cannot be undervalued when it comes to understanding the court’s history and determining how best to fight a charge.
If you have been charged with a criminal matter in this area, call today to schedule a consultation and learn more about this office’s approach to criminal defense.