Virginia Criminal Law: Preparing for Trial

Previous articles in my Virginia Criminal Law blog series have discussed what happens from your initial charge date through the bail process. After your arraignment date, the next thing that happens is that your attorney will prepare for trial.

This article will cover some of the things that your attorney will do to prepare for trial. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give you some idea of what kind of work goes on behind the scenes.

Discovery in Criminal Cases in Virginia

The first thing that any criminal defense attorney will do is weigh how valuable discovery would be in your particular case. Discovery is the process whereby you can force the prosecutor to turn over certain documents they have regarding your case. In Virginia, criminal discovery is very limited. There are only certain types of documents that you can obtain in discovery.

At a minimum, the Supreme Court of Virginia allows defendants to request permission to obtain 1) written copies of any confessions or recorded statements made by the Defendant, 2) written reports prepared by forensic experts and law enforcement offices, and 3) copies of photographs or other documentary evidence held by the prosecutor.

However, discovery can be a two-edged sword. If the Defendant’s request is accepted, the prosecutor can ask for some things from the Defendant. These include, but are not limited to, inspection of any photographs held by the defendant or other documentary evidence, alibi evidence, or insanity evidence.

A good lawyer will advise a client on whether it is a good idea to go through the formal discovery process based upon the complexity of the particular case.

Motions in Virginia Criminal Law

The second thing that a criminal defense attorney may do is to consider what are known as “pre-trial motions.” These are motions designed to weaken the prosecutor’s case. For example, if the police officers violated a Defendant’s civil rights, a defense attorney may file a motion to exclude any evidence obtained by that officer.

There are any number of motions that can be filed by a criminal defense attorney, but the appropriate motions depend on the specific facts of your case. A pre-trial motion may not always be appropriate.

Witness Preparation in Criminal Law

A criminal defense attorney also needs to know whether there are any witnesses that will help your case. Attorneys will usually ask for you to identify anyone who was present at the alleged criminal offense who can help or hurt your side of the case. Additionally, a criminal defense attorney may want to interview character witnesses for sentencing purposes. Even if you are guilty of a crime, a character witness may help reduce jail time.

Plea Negotiation Pending Trial

Finally, a criminal defense attorney will continue to negotiate with the prosecutor throughout the entire process. While negotiations may stall early in the process, careful use of these above preparation skills may result in the prosecutor being more willing to negotiate.

Why You Need a Lawyer

Trials are hard to prepare for. It takes dozens of hours of solid leg work to make sure that you have the best possible chance at trial. Lawyers can help maximize your chances of success by engaging in these preparation processes. Therefore, you should hire an attorney to help with your criminal defense case.