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Questions to Ask a Lawyer

Frequently Asked Questions

We understand that you may have questions prior to reaching out to us. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the most frequently asked questions to ask a lawyer. All FAQs are organized by the categories below. Click on a category to get started.

General Questions to Ask An Attorney

How does a criminal trial work?

It depends on the charge. Generally speaking, and assuming neither side asks for a more time to prepare for a hearing (also known as a continuance), a case progresses as follows:

 

    • Misdemeanors are lesser offenses such that carry a sentence of no higher than 12 months and a fine of no higher than $2500. Unless they accompany felony charges or are otherwise continued, these charges will only go to court twice: once for your arraignment, and again for your trial.
    • The felony category includes all other types of crimes, with punishments up to and including capital punishment. There are two ways they can proceed to trial.
    • A person can be arrested on a felony warrant. This usually coincides with or quickly follows the alleged criminal behavior. The arrested individual will have an arraignment to discuss his right to counsel, then a preliminary hearing to establish the probable cause evidence to support the felony charges, and if probable cause is established, the case is sent from the district court to the circuit court.
    • Cases that have made it to circuit court are again reviewed for probable cause in a closed hearing by the Grand Jury. If the Grand Jury is satisfied by the probable cause evidence, they will issue an indictment. The indicted charge will then go to trial.
    • A felony charge may also be issued by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office by indictment instead of by warrant. To do so, the prosecutor will present probable cause evidence to the Grand Jury. If they are satisfied with the evidence, the Grand Jury will issue an indictment on which the accused will be arrested. Then, the case will proceed with arraignment and trial in Circuit Court, without a preliminary hearing in district court.
    • If a person is found guilty of a felony, the case will return to court once more for a sentencing hearing, at which the judge will order his punishment. If a person is found guilty of a misdemeanor, the judge will fix his punishment immediately after pronouncing him guilty.
How do I know if I need an attorney?

I start all cases with a consultation. This is an informational meeting in which I set aside an hour to discuss your legal matter with you. I charge $125 for this meeting, which is credited towards your total bill in the event you retain me. We discuss options for your legal issues, including whether or not I think you need an attorney, and whether or not I would be a good fit with you.

I provide a fee agreement that sets out how much you would pay to hire me to handle your case. The information we discuss in this meeting remains confidential regardless of your choice to ultimately hire me to handle your case. If you decide to hire me, you will return the signed fee agreement with any deposit or retainer amount set forth in the agreement. This begins my work and opens your case with New River Law, PLLC.

Why do I need an attorney?

Our legal system is adversarial, which means that it is up to each side to advance its own case and defend against its opponent. While judges try their best to be patient and courteous to people who come to court unrepresented by counsel, they cannot advise you on how best to put on your case, nor can they overlook your opponent’s well-placed objections to your evidence.

On a criminal matter, where prosecutors advance the state’s case against you, it is especially ill-advised to try to go up against these experienced litigators alone. As a licensed attorney, I am more than just an advocate in your corner. I’ve studied the law and the rules of court and can use these tools deftly in court.

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
  • A felony is a serious crime for which the penalties can range from over a year in prison to up to a life sentence. They also typically carry serious collateral consequences, such as the loss of the right to vote or to possess a firearm.
  • The lesser offenses are called misdemeanors, and they are punishable by up to twelve months in jail. Some specific types of misdemeanors can also impact your right to possess a firearm, and some can affect your ability to obtain certain professional licenses.
  • Traffic offenses are typically infractions, meaning that they do not carry criminal punishments like jail time. Still, some charges, like DUI or Driving on a Suspended License, ARE classified as crimes and carry jail time, so check with a lawyer to be sure you understand what you’re facing.
I wasn’t read my rights, so won’t my charges be dismissed?

Not necessarily. The “Miranda” rights we hear about on TV are really better understood as the “Miranda” warnings: they are statements about your constitutional rights that law enforcement must provide before a custodial interrogation. The warnings are meant to protect people from abuse while in custodial interrogation, and if an officer does not plan to question you while you are in custody, they do not need to provide the warnings at all.

The remedy for a failure to give the warnings is to keep out any statements that you made before you had them. However, if other evidence can still be used to prove the case, it may result in a conviction. Also, police do not have to give the warnings if you agree to talk to them before you are detained or arrested, and other agents, such as investigators for the Department of Social Services, do not have to give the warnings at all.

If you have questions about your rights, call 540-951-8329 to set up a consultation.

Questions to Ask An Attorney
About Divorce & Child Custody

Do I need to bother with a legal divorce?

Absolutely. The costs and headaches involved with finalizing a divorce are nothing compared to the problems you could face if your ex-spouse takes on debts without your knowledge and fails to pay them, or if they access and abuse marital assets. Additionally, bigamy is a crime in Virginia, so divorce ensures that you are free to leave the failed relationship behind and move on with your life.

Can I work out a divorce by agreement with my spouse?

Absolutely.  While a circuit court judge must issue a divorce decree for your divorce to be final, the terms of most divorces are worked out by agreements.  The parties will set out the terms in a written contract called a separation agreement and ask the judge to incorporate the agreement into the final order.  For that reason, while you and your ex may wish to settle terms on your own, it is wise to have an attorney look over your separation agreement before you sign on.

How long does it take to get a divorce in Virginia?
  • A couple with children can file for a no-fault divorce after a year of being separated.
  • A couple without children can file for no-fault divorce after six months of separation.
  • You can file immediately for divorce on fault grounds, which are:
    • Adultery
    • Felony conviction that will require serving a sentence of a year or longer following the conviction
    • Divorces based on grounds of cruelty, reasonable apprehension of bodily harm, desertion, and abandonment can be granted after one year following the act of fault.
Isn’t it true that the mother always gets custody of the children?
No.  There are no presumptions in favor of either party.
Isn’t it true that the richer parent gets custody of the children?

No. There are no presumptions in favor of either party.

I stayed at home to care for the children while my spouse worked. Won’t they get custody because I am not working or not earning very much?

Not necessarily. There are no presumptions in favor of either party, and a court considers many factors, including the attachment a child has to each parent, as well as each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s basic necessities.

Who can seek custody of a child?
The Commonwealth of Virginia allows any person with a legitimate interest to petition for custody or visitation.
What factors are considered when a judge is determining custody?

The factors set forth in the Virginia Code are:

  • The child’s age and physical and mental condition
  • The age and physical and mental condition of each parent,
  • The existing relationships between the child and each parent,
  • The child’s needs and relationships with other family members,
  • What part each parent has played in raising the child up to now,
  • How well each parent has supported the child’s relationship with the other parent (in cases where abuse is NOT a factor),
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to maintain a relationship with the child and to co-parent effectively, and
  • The reasonable preference of the child.

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