Virginia Criminal Indictments
The following is information about indictments in Virginia criminal cases including what you can expect from the indictment process and how the circumstance of your case impacts when you are indicted. To learn more or discuss the specifics of your case, call and schedule a consultation with a Virginia criminal lawyer today.
Indictments Process in Virginia
There are a variety of different circumstances that would be in play into the indictment procedure regarding a criminal case in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Indictments in Virginia occur at the circuit court level, but many cases—even serious felony cases—begin at the general district court level.
Most felony indictments occur in Circuit Court in Virginia, but most felony cases start off in General District Court. In most cases, an indictment is only issued, or returned, once a case has gone through preliminary hearing. So not every felony case will be indicted in Virginia. This is because many people are arrested on a warrant and have a right to a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is probably cause for an indictment. If the general district court finds probable cause for a case to go to trial, then it is sent to the circuit court for further adjudication.
Another way a case can be dealt with in Virginia is through direct indictment, which is presented before a grand jury. During the indictment procedure, the Commonwealth presents an indictment to five grand jurors, and they hear from a limited number of witnesses. The defense attorney and defendant would not be present.
After hearing evidence in a closed session, the grand jury returns an indictment as a true bill or not a true bill. By practice in Virginia, a very high number of indictments are returned as true bills. If your indictment is returned as a true bill, you will then be notified by law enforcement and served with the indictment in open court, or if you do not appear, the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest, otherwise known as capias.
Types of Indictments
Depending on the circumstances of your case, if you are subject to direct indictment, you may not receive notice of the indictment ahead of time- even if you have an attorney. In Virginia, direct indictments can occur without a prior arrest, and sometimes without even the person being notified that they are under investigation. Although this is rare, it still does happen and you may find an officer at your home or place of business with a bench warrant for your arrest based upon an indictment.
When this happens, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. The attorney can explain the legal processes and tell you what you need to know going forward. However, if you are subject to an indictment that you are aware of, you may arrange with local authorities, depending on local practices, to turn yourself in at that time. It is generally in your best interest to surrender yourself as soon as possible after an indictment so that there is the least amount of inconvenience.
You can also use cooperation with the indictment process in the service of the indictment to your advantage when the magistrate is considering what sort of bond is appropriate in your case. If you are being arrested on a warrant, it is usually best to follow the officer’s directions and to be polite and cooperative. Your attorney will be able to sort out any legal ramifications of a faulty arrest before court.