Entrust Your Legal Matters to Silis & Associates

Virginia Criminal Law Basics: Felonies

Aside from minor infractions, there are two basic types of crimes that you can be charged with in the Commonwealth of Virginia; misdemeanors and felonies. There are six different types of felony classes with the most severe being class one. They are as follows:

Class 1 Felonies

Under Virginia law, the most serious felonies are Class 1 felonies, punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. If the defendant was over the age of 18 at the time of the offense and not mentally impaired, Class 1 felonies may also be punishable by death. (Premeditated murder under special circumstances)

(Va. Ann. Code § 18.2-10.)

Class 2 Felonies

A Class 2 felony is punishable by imprisonment for 20 years to life and a fine of up to $100,000. (Murder, aggravated malicious wounding, burglary with a deadly weapon)

(Va. Ann. Code § 18.2-10.)

Class 3 Felonies

A conviction for a Class 3 felony can result in a prison term of 5 to 20 years and a fine of up to $100,000. (Malicious wounding, attempted poisoning)

(Va. Ann. Code § 18.2-10.)

Class 4 Felonies

A Class 4 felony is punishable by 2 to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. (Pimping, embezzlement)

(Va. Ann. Code § 18.2-10.)

Class 5 Felonies

Class 5 felonies are “wobblers,” crimes that can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on how the crime is charged and, sometimes, how the judge or jury decides to treat a conviction. Class 5 felonies in Virginia are punishable by:

  • 1 to 10 years in prison (when the conviction is a felony), or
  • up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 (misdemeanor).

(Involuntary manslaughter, battery)

(Va. Ann. Code § 18.2-10.)

Class 6 Felonies

Class 6 felonies are the least serious felonies in Virginia. Like Class 5 felonies, Class 6 felonies are wobblers, punishable by:

  • 1 to 5 years in prison (felony), or
  • up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500.

(Animal cruelty, repeat larceny)

(Va. Ann. Code § 18.2-10.)

While most felony cases begin in General District Court, this court does not have jurisdiction to resolve the case. Instead, the function of the General District Court with respect to felony cases is to hear evidence presented by the Commonwealth’s Attorney at a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing or probable cause hearing as it is sometimes called, provides the accused with an opportunity to see a portion of the prosecution’s case. However, since the burden of proof for the prosecutor at this stage is much lower than the “beyond a reasonable
doubt” standard required for trial, the prosecutor will often only present enough evidence for the judge to determine that the accused “probably committed the crime.”

In some circumstances, an individual may want to consider waiving the preliminary hearing. While it is usually beneficial to learn the basics of the prosecution’s case, some prosecutors may threaten to pull any potential plea offer if the accused decides to go forward with the hearing. Obviously, the risk/reward of putting on a hearing under such circumstances is a strategic decision that needs be carefully considered. If, after the preliminary hearing, the judge finds sufficient evidence or probable cause that the accused has been properly charged, the judge will certify the case to the Circuit Court where a Grand Jury will review the evidence and return an indictment for the offense.

An indictment is a charging document used in the Circuit Court. Once an indictment is brought, the accused will be arraigned in the Circuit Court on the felony charge and a future
court date will be set, usually at a brief hearing on the Court’s monthly ‘Term Day’ docket. At the hearing, the accused is often given the option of either setting a date for trial or for the entering of a guilty plea. At a plea hearing, the judge will advise the accused of his or her rights before accepting the guilty plea. Once the plea has been entered, if the accused has not reached an agreement with the prosecutor as to a sentence, another hearing will be set for sentencing. If the case is scheduled for trial, the accused will have to make a determination whether they will accept or waive a trial by jury.

For information and a free-consultation regarding your criminal case in Alexandria, Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William, or the Eastern District of Virginia, feel free to contact our office at: (703) 721-4773

or, use our online contact form to submit a question or request an in-office consultation. We are located near the intersection of King St. and South Alfred St. in Old Town Alexandria, at:

113 South Alfred Street Alexandria, Virginia 22314