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     COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY
     County of Halifax, Virginia
 
 

 

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - (FAQs)

We have grouped the most frequently asked questions into topics to make it easier to find what you want or need to know.

ABOUT THE COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY'S OFFICE

LEGAL BASICS

WHAT TO EXPECT IN COURT

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE TOPICS

RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE


THE COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY AND WHAT THE OFFICE DOES

The title Commonwealth's Attorney is synonymous with the better-known term District Attorney.  It is the job of the Commonwealth's Attorney and staff to prosecute cases brought before the bar of justice on behalf of the people of the State of Virginia, County of Halifax.

Tracy Quackenbush Martin is the current Commonwealth's Attorney for Halifax County, Virginia.


LEGAL BASICS

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

A felony is a major crime that may be punished with a minimum sentence of one-year in jail and a maximum of life imprisonment or the death penalty, depending on the severity of the crime committed. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime that is punishable by confinement in the city jail for no more that one-year, a fine of not more than $2,500, or both. Felony cases may require multiple court appearances whereas misdemeanor cases generally require a single appearance in court.

Why am I a witness if I didn't see the crime happen?

Witnesses are not limited to "eyewitnesses".  Witnesses may be called because they actually saw or heard a crime occur, but they also may know something about a piece of evidence, or may possess information that contradicts another witness' testimony.  You might think that what you know about the case is insignificant but sometimes small pieces of information are required to determine what really happened.  If you want to know why you are testifying in a particular case, ask the prosecutor or your victim/witness assistant; there is probably a good reason.

Please keep in mind that your presence and willingness to testify may be the deciding factor in determining what will be done in the case.  Many defendants often hope that you or other witnesses will not show up.  Sometimes your mere presence at the courthouse before the trial may be enough for the defendant to plead guilty.

What if the Defense Attorney contacts me?

In representing his/her client, a defense attorney may contact you and want to talk about the case.  You may discuss the case with the defense if you wish, but you are not required to do so.  Please remember that if you do choose to talk to anyone about your case, you should always request proper identification and an explanation of the interview's purpose.

I was issued a subpoena for court.  What happens if I don't show up?

If you have not been excused from your court appearance by the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, an unexcused failure to appear on your court date could result in your being fined or jailed for contempt of court.  Please contact the Victim/Witness Office in advance if you cannot come to court on the date required.

What if my employer won't let me come to court?

If you are lawfully subpoenaed to court, an employer cannot prevent court attendance.  When appropriate, the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office will contact your employer to discuss the importance of your role as a witness.  We can also provide you with a note confirming the days/hours when you were in court.

Can I drop charges?

If the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office proceeds with your case, you can no longer drop the charges.  Only the prosecutor assigned to your case may request a dismissal of the charges.

What is a preliminary hearing and do I need to be there?

A preliminary hearing is a legal process where the judge decides if there is enough evidence to send a defendant's charges to the Grand Jury.  The judge, defendant, defendant's attorney, the prosecutor, and any necessary victims or witnesses are present at the proceeding.  The prosecutor must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to show that a crime has been committed.  This involves putting on a minimal amount of evidence, in other words, enough evidence to justify further proceedings.  If the prosecution establishes sufficient evidence, the case is certified to the Grand Jury.

What is an advisement date and why does the victim/witness NOT have to be present?

An advisement date is a date for the defendant to appear before a judge to be informed of any charge/charges brought against him/her and to be advised of his/her right to have a trial.  The judge will also advise the defendant of the right to have an attorney, and if the defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the judge will appoint one for him/her.  The defendant is the only person that needs to be present for the advisement hearing.  There will be NO evidence heard by the judge at this court event; therefore, the victim and/or witnesses do not need to be there.

What is a grand jury and why does the victim/witness NOT need to be present?

The grand jury consists of a panel of citizens summoned by the Circuit Court to review any criminal charges brought against the defendant (an indictment) and to hear evidence from grand jury witnesses.  The grand jury's role is to decide if there is sufficient evidence to go forward with a trial at the Circuit Court level.  Grand jury witnesses are usually made up of lieutenants from the police department who present evidence from their police reports to the grand jury for review.  Victims and/or witnesses are not needed for this court appearance; the defendant is not present for this hearing either.

Why are some misdemeanor cases not assigned to a prosecutor, leaving the victim/witness without legal representation at the court hearing?

All misdemeanor cases that come into the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office are reviewed by a Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney.  Due to the large volume of misdemeanor warrants received, it is not possible for the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office to be involved in every misdemeanor case.  The Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney makes the decision as to whether or not our office will be involved in the case, based on the warrant and any available information.  If an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney is not assigned to the case and a private attorney is not hired to represent the defendant, the case will be heard by a trial judge.  At the trial, the judge will ask you questions about the incident.  If you have any additional witnesses that saw the incident or know something about the case, you will need to contact the General District or Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court clerk's office (depending on which court is hearing your case) to have additional witnesses subpoenaed for the trial.  DO NOT assume that a police officer has been subpoenaed or that the officer who responded to the crime scene subpoenaed witnesses for your case.  You may contact the clerk's office to make sure all necessary witnesses have been subpoenaed.


WHAT TO EXPECT IN COURT

Do I have to testify in front of the defendant?

Yes.  The defendant must be present in court to hear what all witnesses have to say about him/her.

Who will be with me in court?

You may bring friends or relatives with you to court, and they can probably sit in the courtroom while you testify, unless they are also witnesses.  A victim/witness assistant may also be with you, at your request, for support purposes.

How long will I be in court?

Your courtroom time, actually testifying, may not take very long.  Most of your time will probably be spent simply waiting for your turn to take the witness stand.  You are encouraged to bring a book or magazine to read while you wait.

How do I know if my case has been "called off"?

The Victim/Witness Office will make every attempt to contact you if you do not have to attend a court event. Witnesses and other interested parties should always call 434-476-2139 during regular office hours to confirm that a case is still on the court docket.


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

When does the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office handle domestic violence misdemeanors?

The Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney reviews all domestic violence offenses and prosecutes cases where bodily injuries have been sustained and sufficient evidence exists to support prosecution.

I am a domestic violence victim.  My husband promised to never lay a hand on me again.  Can I drop the charges?

No, you cannot drop the charges.  The only person who can request the court to drop charges is the prosecutor assigned to your case. The Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office has a no-drop policy for domestic violence cases.  This is to protect you against further violence and to document the violence that has already occurred.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

What if someone threatens me?

Concerns about your well-being and safety after being victimized or witnessing a crime are normal.  If you have any fears or receive any threats concerning your involvement in a case, you should immediately contact the police department or the Victim/Witness Office.  In an emergency situation, call 911.  Any person who threatens or harasses you during the prosecution of a case, or even beforehand, is obstructing justice and has committed a crime, and the prosecutor handling your case should be contacted immediately.

Who pays for travel expenses for a victim or witness who does not live in the Halifax area?

The Commonwealth of Virginia may reimburse certain travel expenses for you provided the following conditions are met:

  • The victim or witness is subpoenaed by the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office.
  • The victim or witness travels more than fifty (50) miles one-way to appear in court.
  • The prosecutor assigned to the case has approved the travel reimbursement, and arrangements have been made through the Victim/Witness Office.

If you have any questions concerning travel or the reimbursement of travel expenses, please call the Commonwealth's Attorney's office at 434-476-2139.

I can't afford to pay the medical expenses that resulted from this crime.  What compensation is available to me?

Victims of crime who suffer from physical injuries as a result of a crime may be eligible for state compensation to cover medical expenses, psychological counseling, partial loss of earnings, or funeral expenses. For assistance in filing your claim or to obtain a Criminal Injuries Compensation Form call the Commonwealth's Attorney's Victim/Witness office at 434-476-3393.

I am the victim in a criminal case.  How do I find out who will be prosecuting my case?

If you would like to find out who will be prosecuting your case you may call the Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office (434-476-2139) and set up an appointment to talk about your case.

I feel that a crime has been committed.  What should I do?  Do I report the crime directly to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office?

The police department, not the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, investigates crimes.  If you need to report a crime in progress call 911 immediately.  If you want to report a crime that has happened in the past, please call the police department or sheriff's office in your jurisdiction:

Halifax County Sheriff's Office: 434-476-3334
Town of Halifax Police: 434-476-2526
Town of South Boston Police: 434-575-7372
Virginia State Police: 434-476-1887

It is the Police Department's responsibility to investigate crime and issue any arrest warrants, if evidence suggests that a crime has been committed.

Can you tell me when a court event is scheduled?

Please check the Court Docket section of our web site. It contains a listing of our most recent cases, sorted by the defendant's last name or trial date, and includes specific information about each upcoming court event. You may also call the court handling the defendant's case, or you may reach our office at 434-476-2139, if you need further assistance.

Can I talk to Ms. Martin? I think she is the person working on my case since her name appears on my court documents.

Ms. Tracy Quackenbush Martin is the Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney, so her name appears on most criminal court documents as well as any correspondence from our office, however, she may not be the person handling your case. Please call our office at 434-476-2139 if you would like to know the name of the prosecutor in charge of your case. If you still have questions or concerns, you may reach Ms. Martin at the number listed above.

 

 
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