Criminal Charges

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. Aside from the possibility of a prison sentence, if you are convicted of a felony, you lose civil rights including your rights to vote and possess a firearm. It may also affect your ability to serve in the military, get a security clearance, and participate in various government programs. A record of convictions is maintained by the Commonwealth of Virginia and by the FBI’s NCIC database. Generally, to get your civil rights back, the governor must restore them and to get your right to possess a firearm back, you must be restored by both the governor and a judge.

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 renew your right to maintain your silence, or you will probably be 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 established.

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 (

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 65 percent for non-violent felonies. Any time spent incarcerated while waiting for trials or hearings is credited toward your active sentence.

The trial judge may impose probation and suspended sentence for a period of years. During this time, if the probationer violates the law or the rules given him by the probation officer, there are usually show cause hearings wherein the probationer can be made to serve more time in prison.

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 are outlined in Cornell’s U.S. Code online.

Virginia can only charge you once for a crime because the U.S. Constitution protects you against double jeopardy. However, the federal government can charge you for committing the same crime, if it violates federal law because the federal government is a separate government.

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 charge that would be a felony as an adult (those tried as a juvenile cannot be found guilty), you are 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 be used in adult proceedings as a reason to make a sentence longer. 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 are 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 impacted.

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. If you are convicted of a felony, your right to vote and possess a firearm will be revoked.

What is “sexting,” and can I really get into trouble?

The short answer is: Yes. 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 a person under 18, 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 stop a computer expert from finding what was transmitted, even if accounts are deleted after 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. Under Virginia’s Child Pornography laws, the production, distribution, and possession of child pornography is a felony with sentences ranging from 1 to 20 years, requiring registration as a sex offender and in some circumstances requiring mandatory jail time.

Putting this into context, if a child between 15 to 17 years old sends a nude selfie of themself to an 18 year old or older friend, they can be charged, as a juvenile, for the production and distribution of child pornography and the friend can be charged as an adult for possession of child pornography; if they show the picture or send it to another person, then they can be charge with distribution of child pornography.

Even if the sexually explicit picture of a minor child is sent or received while you are a juvenile, if you keep it in your phone, computer, or electronic device after you become an adult, then you can be charged for possession of child pornography as an adult.

Finally, keep in mind that under the Virginia Child Pornography laws, soliciting a minor to be the subject of child pornography is a felony and carries the same penalties as the actual production of child pornography. So, asking a friend under 18 years old for a sexually explicit photo is illegal and punishable as a felony.

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 (firefighters, police officers, or emergency medical service persons) 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. If you do not pay your fines and costs, a judge can put you in jail.

So You’re 18 is presented by the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations.
For print copies of So You're 18 contact (804) 775-0521 or [email protected].