General legal terms
A preliminary hearing in General District or Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court determines, in felony cases, whether there is sufficient evidence for the judge to certify the case to the Grand Jury (Circuit Court). If the offense is a misdemeanor, the case will be tried without a preliminary hearing.
The Grand Jury is a panel of private citizens who meet quarterly to hear evidence from the Commonwealth's witnesses to determine whether there is sufficient cause to bring the accused to trial in Circuit Court.
Circuit Court is where the defendant is found guilty or innocent. If the defendant pleads guilty, a plea agreement will most likely be entered. If the defendant pleads not guilty, he/she will be tried before a judge or jury. Victims and witnesses must appear at these trials. If found guilty, the defendant may be sentenced at that time or at a later date if a pre-sentence report is requested.
A plea agreement is when the Commonwealth and the defendant have entered into an agreement on the appropriate punishment given the facts and circumstances of each case.
A pre-sentence report is prepared by Probation & Parole. It affords the Circuit Court the opportunity to review the defendant's background and prior criminal record in determining the appropriate sentence of the defendant.
A misdemeanor offense is a crime with a punishment of up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.
A felony offense is a crime which carries a possible sentence of one year or more in the Virginia Department of Corrections.