FAQs

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Wouldn’t longer sentences mean less overall crime?

In general, no. Studies have shown that people who commit crimes do not necessarily consider the prison term they could receive. They do consider the likelihood of getting caught, but that is different than a lengthy prison sentence.

The truth is that “tough on crime” politicians love to use the promise of lengthy prison terms as a way to win voters. Locking someone up and throwing away the key may make someone feel better, but it does almost nothing to prevent criminal behavior. In fact, our recidivism rates are extremely high, indicating that people don’t “learn their lesson” while behind bars. Rather, they learn how to be more effective criminals. Combine this with the limited options available to offenders when they are released from prison and it’s clear that longer sentences do almost nothing to prevent crime.

If we really want to lower our crime rates, we need to expand educational opportunities for people in prison and people at risk for going to prison. By increasing legitimate opportunities to work and become a productive member of society, we can provide a real alternative to a life of crime. By lowering the incentive to commit crimes, we lower our crime rates.

Not only will this lower crime, it will also save us money. Our prison population is the highest in the world, both in overall numbers and per capita. We spend billions of dollars incarcerating people and see almost no return on that investment. By looking at alternatives to prison, we can lower our crime rates while saving money in the process.

Is there a way to punish a criminal before he commits the crime he is planning?

This question has been the subject of numerous science fiction stories – going back in time and capturing an offender before he has committed the crime. While we haven’t reached that point yet, there are ways a person can face criminal charges before the crime has occurred. For instance, a person can be charged with an “attempted” crime if they meet certain requirements. First, there must be intent to commit a crime. This means that to be charged with “attempted murder,” for instance, I must actually intend to kill the person. The prosecution must prove this intent to successfully prosecute this charge.

Like other crimes, attempted crimes require a “bad act” as well as intent. Therefore, the prosecution must prove the offender engaged in conduct that showed an action along with the intent to commit a crime associated with that action. This often requires showing “preparation” to engage in a particular action. These preparations differ depending on the alleged crime and can be difficult for the prosecution to prove. An experienced Virginia defense attorney can fight to show that a particular action was not preparation for a crime. An experienced attorney will build reasonable doubt.

Are all illegal drugs treated equally when it comes to punishing drug dealers?

No, the punishment a person faces for selling drugs depends on the schedule of the drug being sold. This means that someone selling a prescription drug, like Adderall, will generally face a less severe punishment than a person selling harder drugs, like cocaine or heroin. The punishments for dealing drugs also depend on the amount, the location of the sale, and the criminal history of the accused. For all people, however, it is a very serious charge that requires the help of an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney.

Can a person be guilty of drunk driving if he only has one drink?

Some people believe that they need to be over the legal limit to be charged with drunk driving. In reality, a person can be charged if they fall well below that threshold. In order to convict, the Commonwealth will need to prove either: 1) a person drove with an excessive blood-alcohol content; or, 2) that a person was impaired behind the wheel of the vehicle. Under the first condition, the government will need to show that a person’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) was higher than .08. In those cases, it is extremely difficult to have just one drink and be convicted of a DWI.

The second case above, however, does not require any specific BAC. Instead, the prosecution will need to show that you were under the influence of alcohol while driving a vehicle. In these cases, the prosecution may rely on evidence such as lack of control over the vehicle, inability to perform a field sobriety test, and the like. In these cases, a person will not need to be above the legal limit. In this case, potentially one drink could lead to a drunk driving conviction.

How different are juveniles treated in the legal system?

Juveniles have to obey the same laws that adults have to obey. The way we handle juveniles, however, is different. Because we understand that most juveniles lack capacity to fully understand their actions, we process them through the juvenile system instead of the adult system – unless a juvenile is tried as an adult, in which case it will be handled just like any other adult criminal charge. In general, society tries a bit harder to reform and rehabilitate juveniles to help them become productive members of society. Juvenile offenses require a Virginia criminal defense attorney who has the knowledge and skills to handle these unique cases.

What is the difference between probation and parole?

People sometimes use the terms interchangeably, but parole and probation are actually two separate things. Probation is a punishment in and of itself, while parole is a way of completing a sentence of incarceration. Probation is often used for first time offenders or for people who have committed relatively minor crimes. Instead of putting someone in jail, courts will restrict a defendant’s freedoms and, should a person complete their probation, allow them to avoid jail altogether. Probation can either be supervised or unsupervised depending on the nature of the offense.

Parole is an early release from prison to complete a sentence outside of a jail cell. This is often used to reward inmates who have been model prisoners or who pose little risk of reoffending. Like probation, an offender will have the opportunity to avoid jail by abiding by the terms of their release. If they do so, they will serve no further jail time for their offense.

What is the difference between rape and sexual assault?

While rape has become a catch-all term for unwanted sexual contact, it refers specifically to unwanted sexual intercourse. Historically, this crime could only occur between a man and a woman. It required force or the threat of force along with something to corroborate the lack of consent.

Because this obviously excludes a large amount of unwanted sexual contact, sexual assault was created.   Sexual assault can occur between two people of the same gender. It can occur if there is no sexual intercourse. This offers the prosecution more leeway in proving their case. What rape and sexual assault have in common is that both are extremely serious sexual offenses and can be life changing for the accused. An experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney will fight to keep this charge off your record.

Can Police Conduct a Search Without a Warrant?

In general, police need a warrant to search a person or property. There are, however, exclusions to this rule to allow police to act quickly if needed. A warrant requires a judge to review probable cause to determine if police have grounds to search a specific place or person for a specific reason. Because time is of the essence in some cases, police are allowed to bypass this requirement if they can show extraordinary circumstances. For example, an exception may apply if the officer can show that a crime is currently occurring and they must intervene.  Another exception may apply if the police are pursuing a fleeing subject into a home.

Another exception is the “plain view doctrine,” which allows officers to observe objects in plain sight without a warrant. For instance, if a person is pulled over and has drug paraphernalia on the seat next to her, an officer would not need a warrant to seize that paraphernalia. Police also will not need a warrant if someone consents to a search. If you are pulled over and allow the police to search your vehicle, anything they find is fair game.

How serious is a DUI?

In short, very serious. In Virginia, a person faces significant fines, potential jail time, and a required ignition interlock for a first offense. For any subsequent offenses, the punishments only become more severe. Some people try to handle these cases on their own or simply plead guilty without speaking to a Virginia DUI lawyer. This is a mistake. An attorney can review the facts of your case to find any potential problems with the prosecution. Even if they cannot find issues, they may be able to argue for leniency or argue to have the charges reduced. By working with an experienced Virginia DUI lawyer, you can be sure your case is being given the attention it deserves and that your rights are being defended.

Is it “safer” to drink beer, wine or hard liquor in excess?

There is not one type of alcohol that is “safer” to drink than another. Whether you drink beer, wine, or hard liquor, you run the risk of exceeding the allowable blood-alcohol content in Virginia when you get behind the wheel. One issue some people have with hard liquor is that it can be difficult to know exactly how much alcohol you are drinking. One bar may make a drink very weak while another makes it very strong. This gives rise to the myth that beer or wine is safer to drink. In reality, you can get arrested no matter what your drink of choice may be.

Another issue with hard liquor is that people may have a few shots thrown in while drinking beer. These shots go down quickly but have just as much impact as a single beer (and possibly more if they are double shots). This can cause a person to get drunk much more quickly, causing them to exhibit poor judgment and get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t. There is no “safer” alcoholic drink when it comes to driving under the influence.

What is blood-alcohol content?

Blood-alcohol content refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream at a particular moment. One beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of hard liquor is generally equivalent to .03 percent alcohol in the blood. The legal limit in Virginia is .08, meaning three drinks in one hour could put you above the legal limit. It is important to note, however, that everyone’s body is different so drinks will impact different people in different ways. It is also important to note that a person does not need to be over .08 to get a DUI. If police can show a person was under the influence of alcohol behind the wheel, it may be possible for them to get a conviction without showing that a person was over the legal limit.

Can I be charged with a DWI for driving after taking drugs?

Yes. States are more frequently passing laws that take into consideration other drugs when it comes to driving under the influence. As testing become more reliable, states are beginning to pass laws that enable prosecutors to charge a person if they have illegal drugs in their system. If police can prove that you were under the influence of a particular substance while driving, it could lead to a DUI charge even if you haven’t had a drop to drink.

Should I get an attorney if I have been charged with a DWI?

In general, it is best to speak with an attorney if you have been charged with a DUI. Most attorneys offer free consultations which allow you to get more information at no financial risk whatsoever. During that consultation, the attorney can discuss what to expect from your case and how they may be able to help. Once you have had this consultation, you will be best informed about whether you should hire an attorney or represent yourself. That is a decision that each defendant needs to make on their own. But before rushing to plead guilty and accepting the serious consequences that come with a DUI conviction, a person should consider speaking to a Virginia DUI attorney to get a free consultation.

Do I have to speak to the police?

No, you have the absolute right to remain silent and be represented by an attorney. In fact, this is often the best course of action, especially if you have been charged with a crime. A police officer may try to win your trust and get you to open up about a criminal matter. They may offer you leniency if you cooperate. Unfortunately, this leniency is not theirs to give. If you are facing questioning from police, exercise your right to remain silent and demand a Virginia criminal defense attorney to assist in your defense.

Will I go to jail?

This is impossible to answer without knowing the facts of your case. After learning the facts of your case, an attorney can sit down and discuss the potential punishments you may face from conviction. They can also examine the case against you to find any problems with the prosecution’s evidence. A Virginia criminal defense attorney will aggressively challenge any evidence against you and fight to keep you out of jail. If they cannot, they will do their best to minimize any jail time you serve. By working with an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney, a client generally gives themselves the best chance at avoiding jail.

Should I accept a plea bargain?

A prosecuting attorney may offer a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against another person or in exchange for a guilty plea to a less severe charge. In some cases, this is the best option for a person. Before signing anything, however, be sure to have a Virginia criminal defense attorney review it to ensure it is a fair deal. This way, you can be sure that any plea bargain is in your best interest relative to the facts of your case.

Is there a fee for a consultation?

No. At The Law Offices of Patrick N. Anderson and Associates, we offer free consultations to learn more about the facts of a case and discuss exactly how we can help. In general, it is best for the client to bring any and all materials to this initial consultation so we can offer our best advice based on the evidence in front of us. Incomplete information may result in incomplete advice, so bring as much information as possible to maximize the benefit for both you and the attorney.

How do I make the most of my initial consultation and what should I bring with me?

Many people are so overwhelmed by the turmoil of being charged that they can’t seem to make sense of what to do next. To make the most of your free consultation, write down some questions before you walk in the door. Prepare to be honest about what you understand and what happened. Bring with you anything you have received from a police officer, judge, or magistrate. Also bring with you anything from the charge in question, such as pictures, facebook posts, text messages, video recordings, damage reports, and the like. We work very hard to make sure you have a good idea of where your case can go, but this isn’t impossible without enough information.

Will I be required to hire the law firm after the consultation?

No. There is no financial risk whatsoever to obtaining a consultation, nor is the initial consultation any guarantee we will represent you. That will be done through a separate written agreement. If at the end of the consultation you wish to represent yourself or wish to speak to another attorney, you will not be required to reimburse us or offer us any compensation for our time. There is literally no risk in obtaining information from The Law Offices of Patrick N. Anderson and Associates.

Do I have to say anything to a judge?

It depends. This is a question that’s difficult to answer without knowing the exact circumstances of your charge, but most minor felonies and other misdemeanors don’t require you to say much, if anything, in court. If there is something you will have to say to the judge, our attorneys thoroughly prepare you so there is no concern for your day in court.

Can I move my court date?

Probably. Judges want to make sure you and your attorney have a fair amount of time to investigate and prepare your defense. Keep in mind that your chances of moving your court date depend on the county you are charged in, how soon your case is supposed to go to trial, the nature of your charge, and many other things. A consultation with an attorney at Patrick N. Anderson and Associates can better answer this question for your case.

What steps are there in my criminal case?

Investigation

Once police investigators learn of an alleged crime, they are dispatched to gather evidence. This phase of your case is critical because officers will often take advantage of those who don’t have representation or an understanding of police tactics to gather information from witnesses. Once they have enough evidence to charge you with a crime, they will secure a warrant for your arrest or issue you a summons. Often, the police will arrest someone without a warrant.

Arrest

With or without a warrant, a police investigator will take you to be fingerprinted and booked at the local detention facility. You will be brought before a magistrate. This is also a critical moment during your case because an experienced attorney will be able to speak to the magistrate about your charge and background, helping to get you bailed out of jail. Without bail, you will be forced to either wait until your case goes to trial or hire an attorney who can then try to secure your bail.

Arraignment

During the arraignment phase of your case, you will be brought before a judge. This is so the judge can tell you that you have a right to an attorney and that you have a right to know the charges against you. Often, an attorney can have this hearing waived, though this will vary from one county to the next.

Discovery

During discovery, an attorney will work to receive as much information as possible about your case from the prosecution. In Virginia, the discovery hearing varies significantly from one jurisdiction to the next.

Preliminary Hearing

This hearing is required only for felony charges. For most felonies, the Commonwealth must show that they had a good reason–probable cause–to charge you with a crime. Often this hearing is used to negotiate the outcome of your case. An experienced attorney, depending on the charges, can often convince the prosecutor that no further hearings are necessary. For those cases that can’t be negotiated, evidence is presented to show probable cause. If the judge agrees that there is probable cause on the felony charge, the case is certified to Circuit Court.

Trial

At trial, evidence from both the prosecutor and your attorney will be presented. A judge will then weigh this evidence and decide whether you are guilty or not. If guilty, your case will move on to sentencing.

Sentencing

At this phase of your case, your attorney will present evidence and argue for the lightest punishment possible.

There is no part of a criminal case where you should be without an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney.

Will the attorney that I see for my initial consultation be handling all aspects of my case?

Yes. Also, you will have a second attorney assigned to your case with whom you will also be able to communicate. Consequently, at all times you will have two lawyers with whom to consult; however, the attorney you see for your initial consultation will handle all aspects of your case.

Once I have had an initial consultation with an attorney in the firm, does the firm represent me?

No. We do not officially represent you until you agree to hire us and we agree to represent you. Keep in mind that attorneys are bound to keep all information shared, even in the initial consultation, privileged from anybody else.

If I retain the firm to represent me, how are cases billed?

We charge a flat fee for all cases. We believe our clients deserve to know exactly what their case will cost from the beginning to the end.

If my criminal case is dismissed or dismissed by nolle prosequi by the Commonwealth, may I have the records expunged?

Yes. Charges for which you have been found not guilty or which were dismissed by the prosecutor can be expunged. However, there are some exceptions to this. Visit our office for a consultation with an experienced Virginia expungement attorney.