The criminal justice process starts when a crime is reported to law enforcement or the magistrate. There are two types of criminal charges. Misdemeanors are crimes that may carry a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail. (Examples: simple assault, trespass, petit larceny.) Felonies are crimes for which a person may be placed in the penitentiary for one year or more. (Examples: burglary, rape, robbery, murder.)
Misdemeanor Cases: The defendant (the person charged with the crime) is tried in either the General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. All cases involving juveniles or family members as the victim or defendant are tried in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. The judge listens to the evidence presented and decides the defendant's guilt or innocence. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge may impose a fine, a jail sentence or both. The defendant has an absolute right to appeal.
Felony Cases: The defendant has a preliminary hearing in either the General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. If the judge finds sufficient evidence to believe that the crime(s) was probably committed, he sends the felony case to the grand jury. If the grand jury finds probable cause that the crime(s) was committed, the defendant is indicted and a date is set for a trial in the Circuit Court. The defendant or the Commonwealth may choose to have his case heard by a judge or a jury. In most instances, the date for trial will be pre-set before the grand jury meets. On rare occasions, a separate date maybe selected to set a trial date.
Subpoena: If you are needed to testify in court, you will receive a subpoena, which is served to your address by a law-enforcement officer. It is a court order telling you when and where to appear and in which court the case will be heard. It is very important to inform this office of any address change. Failure to appear in response to a lawfully served subpoena may result in certain sanctions against the party who fails to appear
Representation: In all preliminary hearings and trials other than certain traffic offenses, the Commonwealth's Attorney’s Office presents the case to the court on behalf of the citizens of Hanover County. The victim is one of the witnesses in the Commonwealth's case. The defendant presents his side through a defense attorney.
Sentencing: If there is a jury trial the jury will recommend a sentence. At a later date, the Judge may impose the recommended sentence or modify it as the Judge sees fit. If the Defendant is found guilty in a trial by Judge, the Judge will set the sentence, either that day or at a later date if a presentence report is requested.