"I should’ve just gotten a job at Kroger," you think as the Five-O begins patting you down for weapons or evidence. Not surprisingly, he finds the tiny bag of cannabis you’ve been slinging through the night. Scared, confused and in a little bit of a shock, the reality of the situation sinks in. You knew it was possible you’d eventually be caught, but now that you are you have no idea what is supposed to happen next. Give yourself a heads-up by read this general information on Richmond criminal cases.
Caught Dealing: What’s Next?
An arrest by a Richmond police officer is only the beginning of the criminal process. The arresting officer will likely read your Miranda rights.
The officer will generally ask if you understand these rights and if you want to waive them. Once arrested, you will typically be transported to either to the police station at 900 E. Broad Street or the jail at 1701 Fairfield Way. You’ll eventually get a phone call, and it may be smart to contact a relative who can talk to a lawyer or post bail.
Your first court appearance will likely be at the Richmond Magistrate Court. During this session, the magistrate will inform you of your right to be represented by an attorney and set bail.
Essentially, bail acts as collateral against a defendant fleeing the jurisdiction as soon as the Commonwealth releases them. If you deposit the required amount with the court, you’ll be released until you are convicted at trial (if that unfortunate event happens). The money will be returned to you when you’ve attended all your scheduled court appearances, but you forfeit it all should you fail to appear. The judge will set a bond amount based on two factors -- whether there is a risk that a defendant will not appear for trial, and whether they are a danger to themselves or to the community. If you cannot afford bail, you can try contacting a Richmond bail bonds company, which will typically loan the full amount of the bail in exchange for 10% of the total.
If you are charged with a felony, your second court appearance will be the preliminary hearing at the Criminal General District Court on 920 Hull Street. A “prelim” is not a trial; there will be no jury and a defense attorney will probably not present any witnesses or evidence. Rather, it is a hearing where the judge will determine whether there is some evidence to support each charge, also called “ probable cause.” Probable cause is a much lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in a criminal trial. Due to this low hurdle, the great majority of cases are certified to the grand jury, which means that it is sent to the Circuit Court at 400 N. Ninth Street.
A Grand Jury is a group of 5 to 8 citizens chosen by the Judge to issue an indictment. During this session, an officer will typically explain the Commonwealth’s evidence to the jury without any actual witnesses or presenting your side of the story. Not surprisingly, the grand jury regularly issues indictments.
The next date will be an arraignment, which is a brief 5-10 minute hearing where the judge will ask you to plead guilty or not guilty and whether you want a jury or a judge trial. At the end of arraignment, the judge will set a trial date.
Motions and Evidence Suppression
The Fourth Amendment provides many of the essential guarantees that guard citizens against a police state. Search and seizure law in particular are often crucial to a criminal defense strategy due to the so-called exclusionary rule, which provides unconstitutionally gathered evidence is generally not admissible at trial.
Defense attorneys are experts at finding deficiencies or failings in police procedures, and they may try filing a motion to suppress evidence to get evidence excluded. Attorneys may also confer with prosecutors to try and bargain in a particular case. Many cases resolve before trial based on plea bargains which reduce the charged offenses or penalties involved in a case.
Finally your case will go to trial unless you either entered a plea bargain or got the case dismissed. An impartial jury will be selected and each attorney will have a chance to present evidence and argue how it applies to your guilt. A conviction must be unanimous, while even one “not guilty” will result in a mistrial. You can find more about what to expect at trial in FindLaw’s criminal trials section. For information specific to yours or a loved one’s case, it may be a good idea to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney.