What Are The Different Types of Criminal Offenses in Virginia?
In Virginia, there are three basic types of criminal offenses, infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. The offenses differ from each other in terms of gravity and the amount of punishment for which someone convicted of the crime can receive. At Williams Stone Carpenter Buczek, PC, we work with clients charged with a crime throughout Northern Virginia.
Here is a detailed explanation about the different types of criminal offenses in Virginia, the possible outcomes of their plea bargains as well as how the law treats them.
Petty offenses and infractions are low level & are usually not classified as criminal offenses in Virginia. They generally are traffic-related. Offenses in this category may include driving without a license, parking tickets, speeding tickets, breaking traffic laws, exceeding speed limits in school zones, ignoring no parking zones, or anti-noise ordinances. Summary offenses, as infractions are often referred, usually do not go to trial & can be very informal. In cases of infractions, defendants usually do not have a right to a jury trial. In Virginia, you do still have a right to a bench trial, where the judge will hear your case and determine the outcome.
Plea Deal Outcomes
In Virginia, infractions are usually punishable by penalties or fines, but not jail sentence. Traffic cases are commonly the most straightforward pleas. As your attorney, we will work a plea deal in your favor. Some Virginia jurisdictions allow the defendant to take a driver improvement course or defensive driving school in lieu of a conviction. However, you may not be eligible if you have a bad driving record or have been convicted of a similar traffic infraction recently. Courts that do not allow this type of course will take your driving record into consideration to assist in deciding the outcome of your case.
The most common outcomes for traffic offense convictions in Virginia result in the following penalties:
First conviction - You are required a driver safety course within 90 days. If you do not, your driving privilege will be suspended and you’ll need to complete the course and also pay a reinstatement fee.
Second conviction - A second conviction in Virginia will result in a 90 day suspension of your driving privileges.
Third conviction – Your driving privilege will be revoked for 1 year, or until you turn 18, whichever is greater.
Misdemeanors are more serious than petty offenses, but are less severe than a felony. Virginia specifies a punishment higher than just a fine for such offenses, including possible jail time in a county jail or regional jail, but not long-term prison sentences. Crimes such as prostitution, vandalism, petty theft, a first offense DUI, assault with minimal injuries, domestic violence and possession of marijuana can all be charged as a misdemeanor. As a defendant, you also typically have the right to a jury trial.
In Virginia, misdemeanor jail sentences are served in the county or city jail and are sub-divided into categories. The punishment level gradually increases with each class.
Class 1 - Imprisonment in jail for a maximum of twelve months and a fine up to $2,500, either or both.
Class 2 - Imprisonment for a maximum of six months and a fine up to $1,000, either or both.
Class 3 - A fine of not more than $500.
Class 4 - A fine of not more than $250.
Plea Bargain Outcomes
In Virginia, two types of plea bargains are associated with misdemeanors, - deferred dispositions and negotiation to avoid or minimize jail. Deferred dispositions can be part of a specific program such as with shoplifting or marijuana cases, or they may also be an agreement between the Commonwealth and an attorney to eliminate the charges if you meet certain conditions. Common conditions can include community service hours, a clean criminal record, completion of classes, and probation for a period of time, supervised or unsupervised. As a defendant, you are typically required to agree that there is enough evidence to find you guilty, and on failing to follow the specified conditions, you could be sentenced without trial.
If a deferred disposition is not offered or you don’t qualify for the same, then the negotiation focus would be to avoid or reduce jail time and/or have some of the charges dropped. By opting for a plea deal in Virginia with a specified sentence, the risk of being found guilty by a judge and getting sentenced above and beyond what was offered can be avoided.
Classified as the most serious of crimes, felonies can be punishable by years in prison and in some cases, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Both person crimes and property crimes including murder, rape, arson, sexual assault, manslaughter, certain drug crimes, various types of white collar crimes or tax crimes, kidnapping, grand theft, armed robbery, possession of drugs for sale, all fall under felonies. The person committing the crime, the one who helped or abetted the crime as well as one who became accessory of the felony after it was committed can be charged. Due to the degree of the crime in terms of seriousness, the right to jury trial is given in case of felonies.
In Virginia, felonies are also subdivided into 6 classes. The higher the level of the offense, the higher the punishment. The punishment usually comprises of a specific duration of imprisonment and a significantly large fine. Here’s a further breakdown of each felony class within Virginia:
Class 1 Felonies – The most serious felony in Virginia is Class 1. They are punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. If you are over the age of 18 and have no mental concerns, this type of felony may also be punishable by death.
Class 2 Felonies - A Class 2 felony is punishable by imprisonment for 20 years’ to life and a fine of up to $100,000.
Class 3 Felonies - A conviction for a Class 3 felony can result in a prison term of five to 20 years and a fine of up to $100,000.
Class 4 Felonies - A Class 4 felony is punishable by two to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.
Class 5 Felonies – Class 5 felonies are sometimes classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor dependent upon several factors, including how the judge perceives your case. A Class 5 felony is punishable by: one to ten years in prison (when the conviction is a felony), or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 (misdemeanor).
Class 6 Felonies - Class 6 felonies are the least serious felonies in Virginia. Like Class 5 felonies, Class 6 felonies can go either way. They are typically punishable by: one to five years in prison (felony), or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 (misdemeanor).
Plea Bargain Outcomes
Felony plea bargains in Virginia are perhaps the most difficult and complex negotiations. For all involved, the stakes are very high and any wrong decision can lead to having a felony record, paying large fines and spending years in prison. Jurisdictions differ in how they resolve such cases. Some require working out a plea at the preliminary stage of hearing, others may go right to the trial.
Certain felony charges, which can also be considered a misdemeanor, are usually resolved at the preliminary hearing stage and have plea deals very similar to the aforesaid misdemeanor plea bargains. They can also happen at the Circuit Court level. Generally, most felony plea deals revolve around the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines that provide a recommended range of punishment for the offense. Based on the guidelines, plea deals will either prescribe a particular punishment or cap the recommended punishment. At times, the plea bargain will have specific charges dropped without any sentence agreement, thereby making a huge impact on the guidelines and your future.
Contact Williams Stone Carpenter Buczek, PC for More Information
Virginia courts can be very complex. It’s very difficult to find your way through the system without the guidance of a qualified attorney. Some judges are understanding, others are not. At Williams Stone Carpenter Buczek, PC, we will make sure any criminal charge is defended vigorously and you are always informed of your options. Our law firm is well known throughout Northern Virginia for criminal, military and family law and we can handle a wide variety of cases. If you have been charged with a crime in Stafford County, Spotsylvania County, Prince William County or King George County, call our lawyers today at 540-657-0111.