The criminal procedure of Virginia is not very different from that of other states. The power of the state is brought into a criminal matter the minute an arrest warrant is issued against an accused. Not only does the release of an active warrant call for the involvement of the judiciary but also from hereon, the tribunal is involved in the entire process that comprises of various hearings, the trial proper and the sentencing.
Can arrests occur without a warrant?
In order to detain a person, the police need to have substantial proof against him. Unless clear probable cause can be derived from this evidence, the police are not authorized to make arrests. Typically, cops prefer to seek active warrants in Virginia because with these directives get them the authority to exercise additional powers when apprehending the accused.
Booked and bound for jail
After being arrested, the suspect is taken to the police station for fingerprinting and for the verification of his name and date of birth. The booking completed, the arrestee is taken before the magistrate or the clerk of court to set a bail amount. This bond has to be paid to be released from custody.
This is the first time the accused is presented before a tribunal after the state files charges against him. There is no law or ruling that governs the time of arraignment. However, generally, the arraignment is held within 72 hours of being arrested if the accused cannot afford to post bail and hence is committed to custody.
At this hearing the judge explains the charges being framed against the accused and the defendant has to plead "no contest", "guilty" or "not guilty". At this point the date is set for the next hearing. The court also decides on whether the suspect can be released on personal recognizance or a bond.
After the arraignment, two hearings are held before the matter goes to trial. The preliminary hearing is a session held to determine if there is enough evidence against the accused to move the matter further to a grand jury hearing. The latter is a session held in which the jury decides on the probable cause against the accused.
Although prosecution is present at this stage to plead their case, defense attorneys are rarely called for grand jury hearings. If the jurors are convinced of the probable cause, an indictment will be delivered, formally framing the charges against the defendant and moving the matter to the circuit court.
The trial and sentencing
Often the defendant will plead guilty at the arraignment, in this scenario, the matter does not go to trial but the attorneys do work out a plea bargain. This entails reducing the sentence or the charges in return for admission of guilt or for turning into a state witness.
If the plea bargain is not accepted by the prosecution and the defense, the accused faces a jury trial. Jurors are selected by agreement from sides. Throughout the trial, the prosecution tries to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In contrast, defense merely has to show that there is a possibility that the accused may not have been involved in commissioning the crime.
In other words, the attorneys arguing in favor of the defendant just have to create reasonable doubt. The verdict comes from the jurors. However, the sentencing is carried out by the judge. If found guilty, the accused will immediately be sent to an interim holding facility from where he will be profiled before being sent to a state penitentiary.