What happens if I am charged with a crime after I turn 18?
First, always remember that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Evidence that can be presented in court against you not only includes physical
evidence but can include testimonial evidence. Evidence may include camera
footage from the officers on scene and/or their vehicles. You have the right
not to testify in court, but that decision is best made in consultation with
your lawyer. Remember that anything you say about the offense can be repeated
in court by anyone who hears you say that — it is an exception to the “hearsay
rule” because it is presumed to be an admission or confession.
For all criminal offenses committed after your 18th birthday, you are tried as
an adult. A record of convictions is maintained by the Commonwealth of
Virginia and by the NCIC (National Crime Information Center). This permanent
record may have negative impacts in many areas, including military enlistment
eligibility, obtaining security clearances, ability to legally own firearms,
immigration status, employment eligibility and whether you’re eligible to
participate in certain government programs. Felony convictions remove your
eligibility to vote. A procedure called expungement is available to remedy the
record of convictions, but only if your conviction qualifies for that
consideration by the court. If your case is taken “under advisement” by the
court, that will negatively affect your right to have the case expunged, even
if you successfully comply with the conditions of the advisement.
If I am arrested for a criminal offense, what do I have a right to expect from
the arresting officer?
The arresting officer will advise you of the charge against you. If you cannot
leave, you are “in custody” and must be advised of your rights established by
a Supreme Court of the United States case known as “Miranda.” You must invoke
these rights, or they will not apply. You have the right to REMAIN SILENT; you
may ask for an attorney to be present during questioning.
Remember: while being detained, or if in custody, or being arrested, you have
this right to REMAIN SILENT, but it is something you MUST INVOKE on your own.
It is true that anything you say can and will be used against you. You should
speak to an attorney before making any statement or answering any questions.
If you invoke Miranda and subsequently say ANYTHING REMOTELY RELATED TO YOUR
SITUATION (such as “what time can I get for this?” or “what’s going on with
the other person in the car?”) the Miranda rights go away and you must
immediately renew your right to maintain your silence, or you may be swiftly
interrogated, and your statements recorded for use.
What happens if I am arrested?
Remember that you must demand to speak to an attorney and maintain your
silence under the protection of Miranda. However, you will be taken before a
magistrate, who decides whether or not to establish bond for you. You may have
to answer certain questions the magistrate asks about your life circumstances
(name, address, etc.), but you do not have to answer questions about the
offense for which you are under arrest. If a magistrate denies bond for you,
when you obtain services of an attorney (retained or court appointed), you can
have that attorney request a hearing before the Court for bond.
What does it mean to be released on bail?
When setting bond (bail), magistrates consider whether the defendant‘s release
would constitute a danger to the defendant or to the public, as well as the
likelihood that the defendant will return as directed for court appearances.
Factors enabling this assessment include prior criminal history. Personal
recognizance bond means a defendant is placed on bond based on the defendant’s
agreement to appear for all subsequent court appearances, and to maintain
peace and good behavior (which includes not only obeying all laws, but all
rules of any pre-trial agency supervising the defendant). A surety bond is a
financial guarantee to back up that agreement to appear as required. Disregard
of any of the circumstances imposed will be a reason for revocation of bond
What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
Felonies are major crimes and misdemeanors are lesser crimes. Felonies are
classified from Class 1 to Class 6 in descending order for purposes of
sentencing. Online access to felony classification and punishments as
specified in the Code of Virginia can be found at Section 18.2-10 of the
Virginia Code (https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode).
Misdemeanor classifications and punishments can be found at Section 18.2-11.
Misdemeanor sentences are served in jails and regional detention centers.
Sentences given for jail sentences are stated in months, and actual time
served is 50 percent of the active sentence imposed. Felony sentences are
usually served in the Virginia Department of Corrections prisons and related
facilities. Calculation of time to be served will vary depending on severity
of the crime and behavior while incarcerated and will start at 50 percent for
non-violent felonies. Any time spent incarcerated while waiting for trials or
hearings is credited toward your active sentence.
Suspended sentences remain suspended unless there are subsequent conditions or
arrests making them vulnerable to show cause hearings wherein, they can be
revoked and made active.
If you have been arrested and know the Code section your arrest was based
upon, you can search the Code online by the section number and learn more
about what you are facing. Federal court, classify felonies and misdemeanors
as outlined in Cornell’s U.S. Code online.
Be aware that the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government are two
separate sovereign entities, which means that each can charge you for
committing the same crime, if the offense is outlined in both codes and
chargeable. That would not qualify as “double jeopardy,” which under the U.S.
Constitution means you cannot be charged twice for the same crime (by the same
Can a juvenile delinquency adjudication of “not innocent” of a felony charge
be used against me after I become an adult?
If a juvenile court finds you are “not innocent” of a felony (juvenile
delinquency disposition), you can be prohibited from owning or possessing a
firearm. Violation of that condition can result in conviction of various adult
felony charges resulting in mandatory minimum prison sentences. Juvenile court
records can surface in adult proceedings by enhancing sentencing guidelines
and other considerations in final dispositions. Juvenile records can also
impact ability to obtain security clearances or enlist in the military, as
well as other considerations.
What if I cannot afford to hire a lawyer?
If you are charged with a traffic or criminal offense for which the penalty
may include incarceration, and if your assets and income are not sufficient
for the court to believe you can hire your own attorney, you can request that
an attorney be appointed to represent you. Even if your offense does not carry
possible incarceration as a penalty, you may want to consult with an attorney
to make sure you know the best possible way to proceed. Always remember that
since you’re 18, your conviction now establishes an adult criminal record,
which, among other things, removes your right to vote if it is a felony. If
you only have misdemeanor convictions, you can still vote. Other rights may be
It is important to understand that even if you are tried and convicted without
being represented by an attorney, the conviction can be used against you for
the rest of your adult life in several ways. The conviction can be used for
enhanced punishment in the future, may impair your ability to obtain credit or
loans, and may impact your marketability in the job force. Your right to bear
arms also may be revoked.
What is “sexting,” and can I really get into trouble?
Sexting is the electronic transmission of video information or an image of a
person who is nude or undressed to expose genitals, buttocks, pubic area, or
female breasts. Sexting may be considered the distribution of child
pornography if the image includes relevant images of an underage (under 18)
person, whether consenting or not. Records of your phone/computer activity can
be provided upon subpoena to the prosecution without your permission. Deleting
an account does not mean it is not reachable for prosecution.
You may be prosecuted for sending, displaying, reproducing, copying,
transmitting, filming, soliciting (asking), or attempting to prepare/produce
the “pornography.” Convictions for felony sex offenses carry prison time, and
registration (lifelong) on the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors
Registry. Again, deleting messages from your own device does not affect the
prosecution’s ability to obtain what was transmitted, even if accounts are
deleted since the transmission.
If a person sends out nude or partially nude pictures of another person,
without that person’s permission and with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or
harass that person, the sender can be sentenced to up to 12 months in jail.
What if I just send or show sexual cartoons, animations, or images?
Anyone over the age of 18 who displays child pornography or a grooming video
or materials to a child under 13 years of age with the intent to entice,
solicit, or encourage the child to engage in the fondling of the child or
another, sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anilingus, anal
intercourse, or object sexual penetration is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
Are phone pranks illegal?
Yes. If you cause another phone to ring/signal just to annoy the owner and if
you allow someone to do that with a phone which is yours, you can receive up
to a $500 fine. A second or subsequent offense carries a punishment of up to 6
months in jail. Records of calls made between one number and another can be
obtained without your knowledge or permission by the prosecution.
Further, if you annoy, harass, hinder, or delay emergency personnel in the
performance of their duties (public/private entities providing fire, police,
or emergency medical service) or permit someone to use your phone to do so,
you can be given a sentence of up to 12 months in jail.
What happens if I curse or use indecent language?
If you curse or abuse another person or use violent abusive language to another concerning that person or any of that person’s family or otherwise use such language, and such language is reasonably calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, you can be given up to a $500 fine. If you communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or make an obscene proposal, or threaten an illegal/immoral act to another, you can be sentenced to up to 12 months in jail. If you communicate a threat to do bodily harm (cause personal injury) to another in writing, you can be charged with a felony.
Can I charge someone for harassing me over the internet or via broadcast?
Yes. As long as the identity of the harasser can be proven, they can be charged with any offense they commit over the internet.
What happens if I fail to pay any fines and costs from any court for traffic cases
or criminal cases?
Be aware that, whatever your fines and costs are, interest is added to unpaid amounts as time goes by. Options the courts have if you do not pay include unsuspending all or a part of your suspended sentence(s), and if you are on probation, your nonpayment can be considered a probation violation as well.