I often receive calls from people who have missed a court date for a traffic or criminal matter in Virginia. These calls typically fit within three general categories: (1) the person wrote the wrong date on their calendar, then went to court only to find out that their matter had already been adjudicated or resolved; (2) the person completely forgot their court date and remembered after the fact that they needed to be in court; or (3) the person missed their court date and found out that law enforcement was attempting to serve them some kind of document.
Over the next couple of blog posts, I am going to address what you can do if you had a court date and missed it. In this first post, I will deal with cases where there is no possibility of incarceration. Later, I will … Read More »
A new law goes into effect in Virginia on July 1, 2015, adding a number of misdemeanors to the list of convictions for which the Commonwealth will take the defendant’s DNA sample and put it into a database. But does this change to the Virginia Code go too far?
Background: the Constitution
The tension between privacy and law enforcement has existed since our nation’s founding. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prevents the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. In a nutshell, this means that the government through its law enforcement agencies cannot simply look into our homes or persons and take whatever it wants in a criminal investigation. There are rules and requirements, such as obtaining a warrant on probable cause before (a) searching a place or (b) seizing a person or his things.
The Fourth Amendment begins with “[t]he right of … Read More »
Way, way back in 2012, I wrote My Cousin Vinny and Discovery in Virginia Criminal Cases, which explained the rules for discovery of evidence in Virginia criminal cases.
It appears that those discovery rules are very likely to change. Earlier this month, the Virginia Supreme Court released a report by its “special committee on criminal discovery rules.” Chaired by retired Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne, this committee spent the bulk of 2014 looking at the existing Rules of Discovery and determining whether any changes to them should be proposed. The committee delivered its report to the Supreme Court on December 2, 2014.
In its report, the committee proposed several new rules that, if adopted, would dramatically affect the nature of criminal practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is important to keep in mind that these are recommendations only, not updated law. … Read More »
The relationship between mental health and the commission of crime has garnered major headlines in the last several years. High profile horrors such as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook revealed that the perpetrators of these offenses possibly suffered from very serious mental health issues. Virginians also witnessed the tragic incident involving State Senator Creigh Deeds and his son, who suffered from mental health issues.
Those were each very serious incidents involving the tragic loss of life. But what about the petit larceny or disorderly conduct committed by someone who suffers from a mental illness—the cases that don’t make the headlines?
Prince William County, Virginia is one jurisdiction that is seeking to change the way the justice system operates for people suffering from mental illness. Prince William has established a special docket, known as DIVERT, in its general district court. … Read More »
In our highly politicized and pluralistic world, consensus often comes with a shock. Debates are argued not necessarily by the brightest advocates for a position, but by the loudest or most intense. Legislation always feels like it is passed by party line. And popular convention extends the same to the United States Supreme Court: that there are four justices who all agree one way, four who agree inapposite, and one deciding swing vote every time. If you just observe superficially, every Supreme Court decision is a 5-4 affair. So when the justices return a 9-0 decision, it comes as a shock to many. And the same superficial observation has us give a 9-0 ruling more weight than a 5-4 decision. On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court issued one of these seemingly rare unanimous decisions, answering a question of utmost importance: whether … Read More »
In Virginia, March Madness carries multiple meanings. For most, at least in recent years, March Madness has been the time for our “mid-major” universities, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, just to name two, to shock the nation and make runs at the Final Four, while our major universities disappoint. In 2014, the University of Virginia appears poised to reverse this trend, and perhaps make a deep run in the tournament.
But madness in the month of March also means the end of the Virginia General Assembly session. The Virginia system of governance, with our part-time citizen delegates and senators, always provides ample fodder for water cooler discussion. Each Virginia delegate can introduce or “sponsor” an innumerable number of new bills, many of which could make an appearance on one of those desk calendars with a crazy law for every day of the … Read More »
Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”) has been a sport for about 20 years, but in the last several years, it has gone from being a fringe spectacle to a mainstream sport covered by ESPN and airing matches on major networks. An initial glance at a singular fight might illicit myriad emotions from the viewer, ranging from excitement to disgust. You might view fighters as thugs or beasts, or you may see them as noble gladiators or elite athletes. Whatever your opinion, there is one undeniable fact: the fifteen or so minutes that make up the fight are just a fraction of the time, preparation and work that goes into an MMA contest.
The criminal trial process is extremely similar to an MMA fight, much more than you might realize. Criminal lawyers are often judged based upon their performance in the courtroom, but the … Read More »
The right to appeal an unfavorable or unjust ruling in a criminal case is at the heart of our criminal justice system. In Virginia there are two categories of criminal appeal: appeals to circuit courts from lower courts, and appeals from circuit courts to higher courts. After briefly touching on the latter, this article will serve as a guide to the former: criminal appeals from district courts to circuit courts in Virginia.
Appeals from circuit courts in Virginia. Rulings by city or county circuit courts in Virginia may be appealed (depending on the area of law) to the Virginia Court of Appeals or Virginia Supreme Court. In those circumstances, the circuit court judgment remains in effect until and unless the appellate court decides to vacate or reverse the lower court’s decision. A relatively small percentage of criminal cases actually go through this level of appeal. … Read More »
Attorney websites and blogs often provide instruction to you, the potential client, on what you need to do: what you need to expect in a particular jurisdiction or from a particular charge, how you need to dress, how you need to find a lawyer, and on and on. So this article, like the dreaded “selfie,” turns the focus away from you and onto us—the legal professionals. If you have hired an attorney to defend you against criminal or traffic charges, you should hold them to certain standards with regard to how they handle your case. Here are five things you should expect from your criminal attorney:
Responsiveness. You shouldn’t know more about the process in your case than your attorney. A criminal attorney who is annoyed that their client has questions has probably lost sight of this simple fact. If you have a question, you … Read More »
Are you facing traffic or misdemeanor charges in Prince William County General District Court? If so, this article is for you. I will provide some tips for handling your case, while hopefully helping you decide whether you should hire an attorney. (If you are charged with a felony, my advice is to have an attorney whether you retain one or accept a court-appointed attorney).
Tip #1: Be early and be attentive. The General District Court (“GDC”) in Prince William County hears matters at 9:00 a.m., and occasionally at 10:30 a.m. There are two entrances to the courthouse, but 99% of the people use the main entrance. This can cause a delay in appearing in court when you factor in time for finding parking. 9:00 a.m. is when the judge is scheduled to take the bench, not the time when you should arrive on the courthouse grounds. Once … Read More »