What is a felony?
A felony is generally defined as a crime that has a maximum punishment of more than one year in prison. Misdemeanors are punishable by no more than one year in jail. Conviction of a felony can result in the loss of many civil rights including the right to vote, the right to possess a firearm, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to hold public office. In addition, conviction of a felony can make it difficult or impossible to obtain, or retain, employment in many occupations and can make it difficult to find housing.

What is a grand jury?
In Virginia, grand juries listen to evidence, usually presented by law enforcement officers, and decide whether to return a true bill of indictment. Grand juries hear testimony behind closed doors and grand jury members cannot disclose to others what evidence they heard. If a majority of grand jurors votes to return a true bill of indictment, the charge will be tried in Circuit Court. Multijurisdiction grand juries have the power to subpoena witnesses and also physical evidence. Many times, they will subpoena civilian witnesses to give testimony in an effort to build cases. Multijurisdiction grand juries are investigative grand juries. They have the power to issue indictments.

What is an arraignment?
An arraignment is simply the initial court appearance by a person charged with a crime. At arraignment the judge will read the charge to the defendant. For traffic and misdemeanor cases, the arraignment and trial may occur during the same proceeding. For felonies, most of the time the arraignment is a separate proceeding. The judge will inquire as to whether the defendant has counsel.

What are sentencing guidelines?
In Virginia, the General Assembly set up a commission to determine guidelines for sentencing in felony cases. The commission did this by reviewing historical data in criminal sentencing hearings statewide. They then determined ranges of punishment guidelines for different crimes that take into account the particular defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, as well as other factors that may aggravate the case. The guidelines usually set a minimum, maximum, and mid-point of a suggested range of punishment. In Virginia, sentencing guidelines are discretionary which means that a judge is not required to sentence within the guidelines in any particular cases. The judge can set a sentence that is lower, higher, or within the guidelines.

What is the penalty for underage possession of alcohol?
With limited exceptions, it is unlawful for anyone under the age of 21 to possess, consume or purchase, or to attempt to consume, purchase or possess, any alcoholic beverage. A person can be prosecuted in the city or county where the alcohol was possesses or consumed or where the person exhibits physical indicia of alcohol consumption. Violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Upon conviction the judge must order either a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or a mandatory minimum of 50 hours of community service as a condition of probation supervision, and, the operator’s license of any such person age 18 or older shall be suspended for at least 6 months and not more than 1 year. In some cases, the court can grant a restricted operator’s license during the suspension period.

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