A person subject to a criminal prosecution, regardless whether it is a felony or misdemeanor, faces a life-altering event that can result in a multitude of negative outcomes including incarceration, lost civil rights (possession of guns, voting rights), future difficulty obtaining employment (security clearances, types of jobs limited), significant financial penalties, and often psychological trauma resulting from the stresses of defending criminal charges and loss associated with a conviction. An effective criminal defense litigation strategy can substantially reduce the effects of these negative consequences of a prosecution by reducing charges, reducing sentences, and by receiving the ongoing support of an attorney who advocates for the defendant and her interests.
Regardless whether a defendant is actually guilty of a charged crime or not, it is important that she obtain effective criminal defense to challenge the prosecution. Unless a criminal defendant is unable to afford an attorney (indigent), and is prosecuted in a jurisdiction where there is a public defender's office, private criminal defense attorneys provide the best services to effectively defend a criminal case. (See Who's Better at Defending Criminals? Does Type of Defense Attorney Matter in Terms of Producing Favorable Case Outcomes (2011) , reviewing a compilation of studies, and determining that private attorneys and public defender agencies tend to produce similar results in criminal defense cases, whereas defendants represented by court-appointed attorneys may be significantly disadvantaged.)
Hiring a private criminal defense attorney assures you that your case will be taken care of. No lawyer likes to lose, and will always want to obtain the best result for his client. Attorneys know that a client's criminal matter is probably the most important concern in that person's life, and will treat the issue with respect. But more importantly for the case, courts will pay closer attention to a defendant's story when told by an experienced lawyer. There are procedural rules that must be followed, and legal narratives that the court would grasp when explained by an attorney.
The financial cost of a private attorney will most likely outweigh the long-term costs of a conviction or serious sentencing that will impair future lifestyle, earnings, and liberty.
Just as it is important to hire an attorney after an arrest has been made, it is just as, if not more important, that a defendant understand and enforce his rights before, at, and after an arrest. The most important thing a potential criminal defendant can do to improve her criminal defense position, is to not offer information to a law enforcement agent other than what she is required to do by law.
Generally, a police officer can only detain you if he has a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime or other violation which he has jurisdiction to cite you for (traffic offenses). During a temporary detention, you may be required to identify yourself by just stating your name, and providing some form of identification, if you were driving. You do not have to volunteer any information whatsoever at this time other than the identifying information. This includes your right not to answer any questions asked by the law enforcement officer. Even if you believe you are innocent of whatever you may be stopped for, your statements may be misinterpreted and can actually support a police officer's belief that you committed a crime.
You can ask the officer what you are being detained for, and you may also ask the officer if you are going to be arrested for that crime. If the officer does not tell you what you are being detained for, and whether you will be arrested, you can ask the officer if you are free to go. If the officer does not permit you to leave, you can, again, ask those same questions. If the officer continues to detain you without an explanation, it may be a good idea to call a criminal defense attorney who can speak with the officer present, if the officer permits you to make the call while you wait the officer's decision.
If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you do not have to consent. The officer will normally be required to obtain a search warrant in order to conduct a search, if he has not yet arrested you. No matter how persuasive or polite an officer acts toward you, you have no obligation to permit him to search your vehicle. If the officer can articulate a reasonable need to check your body for weapons, you may be required to exit the vehicle and be searched. You can, again, refuse any consent to search the vehicle.
If you are arrested, do not physically resist the arrest or be verbally combative. Politely ask the officer for what you are being arrested for, and comply with any orders to transfer you into the police car and to the station. Remember that your right to remain silent attaches once you are arrested, and it is highly advisable that you do not speak with law enforcement officers or other persons besides your attorney about the circumstances surrounding your arrest.
Remember to be polite and respectful toward any law enforcement officers that you encounter during a detention or arrest. You can still enforce your rights by respectfully stating your positions without becoming hostile. (Examples: "Officer, I am sorry, but I do not consent to you searching my vehicle." "Officer, thank you, but I will uphold my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with an attorney." "Officer, am I being detained, and for what? If not, am I free to leave?")
As soon as you are able, be sure to contact a criminal defense attorney. A defense attorney's presence at an arraignment (the first appearance before a magistrate or judge) can already benefit you by providing an opportunity to obtain bail instead of remain in jail indefinitely as the case progresses. Calling an attorney first thing can also provide you protection from police interrogations where your statements may be used against you. Be sure to clearly request for an attorney at any opportunity the police wish to speak with you, and do not answer any questions other than for booking purposes until your attorney is present. For these reasons, it would be a good decision to obtain a criminal lawyer's business card or contact information, and keep it in your wallet or pocketbook so that if an arrest is ever made, you will be able to quickly point to who your lawyer is and obtain her services.
Many defendants are surprised to learn when subjected to Virginia's state criminal justice system how "tough" Virginia's criminal procedures and sentencing are. Virginia has some of the highest jail and incarceration rates in the nation , despite long-tested studies showing that recidivism (likelihood of a released inmate committing a crime again) rates have not improved as a result of being locked up. In Virginia, a criminal defendant is entitled to minimal pre-trial discovery, and although many Commonwealth Attorney's offices have an "open discovery" policy that permits defendants to see what the prosecutor has in the case file, there is almost an inevitable last hour "discovery" of important information in most cases when the Commonwealth finally devotes its resources to the case just before trial. The risk of trial "by surprise" pressures defendants to take guilty pleas instead of risking fate to a jury or judge.
An effective criminal defense in Virginia requires an attorney skilled in trial and appellate practices in order to recognize potential defenses to each charge. Litigation strategies change from case to case since every defendant has slightly different interests prioritized, different facts surrounding the criminal charges, and different circumstances affecting the litigation itself such as prosecutors, judges, and jurisdiction demographics.
Although federal crimes are rarer to prosecute than a state prosecuting for a similar or identical offense, such cases can happen especially if the nature of the offense involves connected events in more than one state. Federal criminal matters are more uniform in practice since the federal rules of criminal procedure and federal criminal statutes apply equally across the United States. The skillsets needed to practice Virginia criminal law apply to a federal criminal case, but often require stricter adherence to procedural rules, and knowledge of federal law and practice.
Please contact our office to discuss your criminal matter.