Felonies in Virginia

Felonies in Virginia

Felonies in Virginia

A felony charge in Virginia can be a serious concern, with potential punishments that can include years or even life in prison. In some cases, they may even be punished with the death penalty. If you or someone you care about have been charged with a felony, it’s best to contact a Virginia criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible, so you can start working together on your defense. In the meantime, here are the answers to some frequently-asked questions about felony charges in Virginia.

What Are the Classes of Felonies in Virginia?

There are six felony classes in Virginia, with different maximum punishments.

Class I felonies. These are the most serious crimes and carry the strongest punishments, including the death penalty. Examples include capital murder and sex abuse of a child younger than 15 years old. Punishments can include life in prison, a $100,000 fine, and the death penalty. (The death penalty is only considered if the convicted individual is at least 18 years old.)

Class II felonies. Considered slightly less serious than Class I felonies, these crimes are still considered severe and carry heavy potential penalties. Some Class II felonies include terrorism, first degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding, abduction to extort money, and burglary with a deadly weapon. A person convicted of a Class II felony may face between twenty years and life in prison, and a $100,000 fine.

Class III felonies. This class of crimes includes attempted poisoning and burglary. If convicted, a defendant charged with a Class III felony may receive between five and twenty years in prison, and a fine of up to $100,000.

Class IV felonies. There are a number of crimes considered Class IV felonies in Virginia. These include arson of an unoccupied building, human trafficking, shooting at a vehicle, embezzlement, bigamy, child abuse, forging public records, and posssession of a sawed-off shotgun. Punishments include two to ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Class V felonies. This class contains crimes that are sometimes called “wobblers.” What does that mean? “Wobblers” are crimes that can be punished as a felony or a misemeanor depending on certain circumstances, up to the court’s discretion. Class V felonies include voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, extortion, computer fraud (involving damages of $500 or more), soliciting prostitution of a minor younger than 16 years old, and credit card forgery. A conviction for a felony of this class can lead to one to ten years in prison. Or, if the judge chooses to treat the conviction as a misdemeanor, the penalty may be up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

Class VI felonies. Like Class V felonies, Class VI felonies may also be treated as “wobblers” and punished as misdemeanors at the judge’s discretion. These crimes include strangulation, multiple domestic violence, soliciting prostitution of a minor 16 years or older, and credit card fraud of $500 or more. Punishment can be one to five years in prison, or up to one year in prison with a fine of up to $2,500.

How Many Misdemeanors Equal a Felony? Do 2 Misdemeanors Equal a Felony?

These are common questions. Some people mistakenly believe there is a math formula where a certain number of misdemeanors adds up to a felony charge, but this isn’t the case. It is true that multiple charges are more likely to lead to a “wobbler” being treated as a felony instead of a misdemeanor. This is why, for example, multiple counts of domestic violence may be treated as a felony but a single count is typically treated as a misdemeanor. 

However, this is done at the court’s discretion and is not based on a set number of charges. Generally, the court will focus on the amount of harm done rather than the exact number of charges. This is one reason why it’s important to retain the best criminal lawyer in Virginia that you can find for your case. Your attorney might be able to argue that while a law may have been broken, little or no actual harm was done. 

Can Felonies Be Dropped to Misdemeanors?

In some cases, yes. Using a process called plea bargaining, some defendants may get felony charges dropped to misdemeanor charges in some situations. However, this means that they plead guilty to those lesser misdemeanor charges, and will still have a criminal record that can be problematic.

So why would someone do this? Plea bargaining isn’t always the best solution, but for defendants facing serious charges with a lot of evidence against them, it may be a good option. In some cases, it may save them the time, stress, and expense of a trial. Depending on the particular deal their attorney is able to work out with the prosecuting attorney, they may also avoid jail time, instead paying a fine and having a period of probation. Or they may still spend some time incarcerated, but with a much shorter sentence than they might have gotten for a felony conviction.

Whether or not accepting a plea bargain is the right decision is up to you, the defendant. If such a deal is possible, your attorney will explain the terms to you. It’s important to ask them if you have any questions, so you can be clear on what you’re agreeing to if you go through with the plea bargain. You should also remember that even a misdemeanor conviction will still show up on your criminal record, and may make it difficult to get a job, housing, or an education in the future. However, if the evidence against you is extensive, and it seems likely that you will be convicted of the more serious charges anyway, this may not matter as much.

Your attorney will also go over the evidence the prosecuting attorney is likely to present, and your options for refuting this evidence. Again, this process should give you some idea of how things are likely to go in court.

If you think it might be worthwhile to accept a plea bargain but don’t like the terms, your lawyer may be able to negotiate for better terms, such as less or no jail time.

Can a convicted felon vote in Virginia?

Under recent legislation, yes. In March of 2021, Governor Northam took executive action to restore voting rights to former felons as soon as their prison term is completed. Previously, they needed to wait until finishing probationary or parole periods, which sometimes lasted for years.

  Can a Convicted Felon Own a Gun in Virginia? 

Under some circumstances, yes. Usually a felony conviction means automatically losing your right to legally own a firearm, unless your rights have been restored under both state and federal laws. This can happen if you were granted a full pardon under applicable Virginia laws and the executive order does not state any restrictions on your ability to own a firearm. Or it can occur if you had your rights restored under a simple pardon, and were granted permission to own a firearm by the Circuit Court of the jurisdiction in which you live. In certain circumstances, you may also have your rights restored if you were convicted of a felony in federal court but had your firearms disabilities removed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

The rules regarding restoration of rights to own a firearm can be complex, so it’s best to check with your attorney before attempting to purchase a gun.

Do I Need to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney or Will the State Give Me A Public Defender?

You have the right to seek the assistance of a public defender at no charge to you if you’ve been charged with a crime. This option is intended to ensure that everyone has access to a qualified defense attorney, even if they can’t afford to hire a lawyer on their own. Public defenders are experienced criminal defense attorneys who work hard to help their clients.

However, there is a lot of demand for public defenders, so they are also often very busy. They may be laboring under a heavy caseload, and may not be able to spend as much time on your case as a private attorney. They also help clients with a wide variety of charges, and may not be as experienced in the particular type of crime you were charged with as a private defense attorney who specializes in that type of case. 

For these reasons, it’s a good idea to consider hiring your own attorney if you’ve been charged with a crime, especially a felony. If you’re not sure if you can afford one, try researching attorneys who handle the type of charges you’re facing. Most attorneys will give you a free consultation and a cost estimate if you wish to retain their services.

Felony charges can be very serious, and it’s important to get started on your defense strategy as soon as possible. If you or a loved one have been charged with a misdemeanor, please contact us for a free consultation.