Trying to get bond

Virginia Code no longer has a presumption against bond. Prior to July 1, 2021, the Virginia Code presumed that for certain very serious offenses, a criminal defendant should not be released on bail pending trial.

Now, those presumptions are eliminated, and under the amended Virginia Code Section 19.2-120, all defendants should be given bail unless the judge or magistrate determines that the person is a flight risk, a risk to him or herself, or a risk to the community. The judge’s threshold for this determination is probable cause, which has been defined in Virginia as reasonable grounds for belief, which is not a particularly high standard under the law.

What are some of the things a judge considers when deciding whether to admit a defendant to bail?

  • The nature of the charge itself. Even though everyone is presumed innocent and the charge is merely an allegation, the judge can still consider the prosecution’s contentions. Some criminal charges are understood to be more serious than others (i.e sexual assault vs. reckless driving).
  • he quantity of evidence the Commonwealth has and the strength of their case. The Commonwealth may tell the court or even put on some evidence of what allegedly occurred. Having said that, it is rare that the full weight of the evidence is considered so early in a criminal case. Also, for both tactical reasons and because the defense has likely not been able to conduct its own discovery and investigation, the defendant may have only a limited response to the prosecutor’s contentions at this point.
  • The defendant’s criminal history. This would include any previous failures to appear as well as the number, recency and seriousness of prior convictions.
  • The defendant’s ties to the area. This could include how long he or she has lived there, what kind of family ties they have, how stable their employment is, etc.
  • Any mental health or substance abuse issues. A rehabilitation program or at the least, a sobriety plan and stable living situation, will be of interest to the judge in such cases.

There are ways to help in the presentation of a case for receiving a bond. Judges like to hear from family members with whom the defendant cohabitates or has an otherwise close relationship. Employers can help by showing that they still believe in the defendant as a worker despite the current charges. If substance use is involved, judges appreciate hearing about plans for sobriety and/or treatment. Finally, it can be helpful for the attorney to demonstrate the impact of remaining in jail on the preparation of the case, as well as the detrimental effects on the family.

It is important to note that bail and bond are used almost interchangeably, but they are slightly different. Bail is the actual amount of money a judge sets for someone to be released from custody. Bond is an amount promised (an unsecured bond) or actually paid (secured bond) to the court to ensure that the defendant shows up for trial. If the person shows up for court, the money will be returned. Defendants and their friends and family often hire a bondsman to post this money and to complete the required paperwork. The bondsman often charge a fee that is equal to 10% of the bond amount.

If you have been arrested and are awaiting trial without bail, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Rakness & Wright to help you get out as soon as possible.

The value of a civil case affects the court in which it will be tried

Effective July 1, 2021, the jurisdictional amounts for personal injury cases went from $25,000 to $50,000. The new law is reflected in several places in the Virginia Code, including § 16.1-77.

This means that cases now in circuit court can be transferred to general district court so long as the amount claimed by the plaintiff will be $50,000 or less. The downside may be that you cannot have a jury trial and that the general district court decision is subject to a possible appeal to circuit court. Additionally, your discovery is essentially limited to subpoena power and not the full panoply of tools such as depositions, interrogatories, requests for documents, and admissions. 

Considering General District Court

In spite of the above, there are benefits to litigating a case in general district court. Generally, you can schedule a trial date sooner than in circuit court. Since the discovery process is much more limited, the time and expenses required for depositions and answering requests can be reduced. For cases involving medical treatment for personal injuries, the plaintiff can present their medical records with a proper self-attesting affidavit to the judge without having to subpoena and pay treating physicians for their testimony (Code of Virginia § 16.1-88.2).  This is a cost and time-saving measure only available in the lower court, where the plaintiff can avoid potentially thousands of dollars in fees to get a treating physician into the courtroom. 

Transferring a case, as opposed to voluntarily non-suiting the case, also has some advantages. The plaintiff does not have to waste his or her non-suit which may, for various tactical reasons, be better used at a later date. Additionally, the language of Code of Virginia § 8.01-195.4 specifically states that because this is a transfer, “the tolling of the applicable statutes of limitations governing the pending matter shall be unaffected by the transfer.” In other words, if your personal injury incident is more than two years old, your claim will not be disallowed by the statute of limitations (Code of Virginia § 8.01-243) and can be heard in general district court. 

Transfer a Case to General District Court

For a personal injury case now pending in circuit court that the plaintiff wants to transfer to general district court, there is a fairly straightforward process. However, conforming to the statute is key to avoid any procedural pitfalls. The plaintiff files in circuit court a motion to 1) amend the amount in controversy to $50,000 or less; and 2) transfer the case to general district court. The motion should include a copy of the general district court filing fee payment. Plaintiff also needs to prepare and submit the order amending the amount and transferring the claim. The motion needs to be made at least 10 days before the scheduled circuit court trial, unless the plaintiff can show good cause for why it was not done sooner. 

The plaintiff then has an obligation, created by the statute, to file a certified copy of the transfer order with the general district court, and also to pay a new filing fee with the general district court clerk’s office. 

This change to the jurisdictional limits and the ability to transfer personal injury cases creates a potentially faster and less expensive route to recovery for the defendant’s negligence. 

Note that the jurisdictional limit affects personal injury cases. However, the jurisdictional amount for general district court will still be $25,000 for most cases involving property or contract disputes. 

Reach out to us any time you would like to discuss your particular case. 

Uncontested divorces made easier in Virginia in 2021

The Virginia General Assembly made obtaining an uncontested divorce slightly simpler in 2021. 

It used to be that Virginia Code Section 20-106 required in a no-fault divorce that a third party, usually a friend or family member, must either come to court and testify or swear in an affidavit certain information regarding the separated husband and wife’s relationship and their breakup. This was inconvenient, time-consuming, and occasionally uncomfortable for the person who knew both parties to be part of the process and provide this corroborating information. 

For a no-fault divorce, Virginia law still requires that the parties either be separated for one year, or if they do not have minor children and they have a separation agreement, to be separated for 6 months, in order to file for and obtain a divorce. However, the parties in a no-fault divorce no longer need to invite a friend or family member into the litigation process when these issues are uncontested. 

Please contact Rakness & Wright PLC if you would like to discuss a possible uncontested divorce on no fault grounds.