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 »
One of the key issues for defense attorneys at trial is limiting the focus of the prosecution’s evidence to evidence of the offense charged, and preventing the admission of any evidence of other prior charges, convictions, or bad acts of the defendant. This task is made somewhat easier in Virginia by our longstanding rule against evidence being admitted solely to prove the general criminal propensity of the defendant.
Rule 2:404 of the Virginia Rules of Evidence states that “evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion.” We have that rule to protect defendants from the inference that results from the entry of evidence of prior bad acts: that the defendant has a propensity to commit criminal acts.
Virginia Rule 2:404 protects defendants by generally prohibiting that … Read More »
In the moments after being arrested and charged with a criminal offense, many defendants are singularly focused on one question: when will they get out of jail?A lot of confusion exists among defendants and their families over the bond/bail process and what can and cannot be done by the defendant, their attorney, and the court. A basic understanding of how bond works in Virginia can alleviate a lot of that confusion, and place defendants and their loved ones in the best position going forward.
To begin, while they are often used interchangeably, the terms “bail” and “bond” do have different meanings in Virginia:
Bail is the pretrial release of a person upon certain terms or conditions set by a judicial officer.
Bond is the actual posting or promise to pay a specific sum as ordered by a judicial officer to assure a defendant’s compliance with the … Read More »
That Is the Question for Many Criminal Defendants
The world of criminal defense has been abuzz lately regarding a unique plea deal that was struck last month in Shenandoah County, Virginia. In that case, the defendant, Jessie Herald, was facing five charges: felony child endangerment, felony hit and run, misdemeanor failure to provide medical attention to an injured child, misdemeanor driving on a suspended license, and misdemeanor driving after forfeiture of his license. In exchange for dropping two misdemeanors, he agreed as part of his terms of probation to get a vasectomy. The defendant had fathered multiple children and the prosecutor deemed it would be in the Commonwealth’s best interests for him to have a vasectomy. The decision has been controversial among the legal community of where the line should be drawn in what is acceptable in a plea deal.
While most … 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 »
The criminal bar has been abuzz with the recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court in Starrs v. Commonwealth, 287 Va. 1, 752 S.E.2d 812 (2014). In the Commonwealth of Virginia, just as in our federal system, two separate branches of government have the power to effect change in our laws and often wrestle with each other over the implementation of that power. On the one hand we have legislators in our General Assembly who make the laws, and on the other hand we have judges who interpret those laws and make daily decisions about how they apply to defendants.
Deferred dispositions are one area where these two sources of power disagree over where authority ultimately lays. A deferred disposition is simple enough in the abstract. In Virginia, the guilt phase and the sentencing phase of adjudication are two separate events. A defendant … Read More »
On April 22, 2014, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Prado Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. ____ (2014) that will have a significant impact on DUI and other traffic stop cases nationwide. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that a police officer has reasonable suspicion to stop a driver based on an anonymous 911 call complaining of reckless driving behavior.
In this case, the defendants (Lorenzo and Jose Prado Navarette) were driving a Silver Ford F-150 down a California highway. An anonymous 911 caller reported that the F-150 ran them off of the highway. Approximately 15 minutes later, a state patrol officer made contact with the F-150 and, after observing the vehicle for five minutes, pulled it over. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officers smelled marijuana—and then discovered 30 pounds of marijuana in the bed of the truck. The defendants … 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 »
Being charged with a criminal offense can be an anxiety-causing event for anyone. But immigrants charged with crimes face not only potential criminal punishments but also the potential impact on their immigration status from a criminal conviction. If you are an immigrant charged with a crime, here are four ways to help your criminal attorney protect your immigration status from the very beginning of your case:
Identify Your Status. It is crucial that you identify your immigration status for your criminal attorney as soon as possible. The immigration consequences of a criminal conviction can vary greatly depending on whether you are a lawful permanent resident, asylee, non-immigrant visa holder, completely without status, etc. If you are unsure of your status, make sure you bring copies of all immigration paperwork with you to the initial consultation with your criminal attorney. Immigration status should be the … Read More »