Although each legal case is different and can be missed at any time, most cases go through the entire legal process. According to a criminal defense law firm, your path through the criminal justice system in Virginia can depend on the type and severity of the criminal offense you were charged with committing. However, most felonies and misdemeanors typically go through the same process:


You can be arrested after a magistrate or court issues a warrant. Moreover, the police can arrest you as a suspect without a warrant if they see you committing a crime or have probable cause to believe that you have committed a felony offense.

When you are arrested, the officers will bring you to the police station or jail. The police will verify your identity and get fingerprints and photographs for record-keeping purposes. You may be detained until making an appearance before a magistrate or judge. 

Bond or Bail

At this stage, you will be brought before a judge or magistrate. This typically occurs the next business day, and the judge will determine whether you should be released on bond or bail. In Virginia, you will generally be afforded bail or bond unless the judge determines that you are charged with a crime that poses a danger to the public, involves a presumption against the bond, or poses a risk of you fleeing from the state.

A First Appearance and Arrangement

The first appearance in court could occur the day after your arrest and bond hearing if you were denied bail. At this appearance, you will be advised of your right to an attorney, where you can either choose to hire a criminal defense attorney or have a lawyer appointed for you. 

At the arraignment, you will have to make two big decisions. You will first enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Then, if you plead not guilty, you must decide whether you want a jury trial or a bench trial, where your case will be heard only by a judge. After that, your trial date will be set. 

Preliminary Hearing

At the preliminary hearing, the court will review the prosecution’s case to determine if probable cause exists to bring you to trial on the charges. If the court finds probable cause, your case is referred to a grand jury, which will decide whether to maintain the charges. If the grand jury finds probable cause, too, it will issue an indictment. Your case is dismissed if the grand jury does not find probable cause for your charges.

A Pre-Trial Motion and Trial

In some situations, pre-trial motions may be brought. These motions, such as the ones to suppress evidence, can resolve essential issues in the case before you get to trial. At trial, your defense lawyers and prosecutor will have the opportunity to present question witnesses, make opening statements, cross-examine witnesses, submit evidence to the court, and offer closing arguments. A sentencing hearing will be held after your trial if you are found guilty of the crime. 


You have the legal right to appeal if you were found guilty but believe that a mistake was made in a trial. Appellate courts will review the trial proceedings to determine if any errors have affected the outcome of your case or sentence. 

Of course, not every criminal case will go to trial or an appeal. Some defendants can choose to accept a plea offer from the prosecutor. Other cases are dismissed if the prosecutor cannot make a legally sufficient case.