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
WHAT TO EXPECT IN
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE TOPICS
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
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,
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
- 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
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
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
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.
When does the
Commonwealth's Attorney's Office handle domestic violence
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
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.
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
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
- 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
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 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
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
Halifax Police: 434-476-2526
- Town of
South Boston Police: 434-575-7372
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 that is the name that appears on my court documents.
Ms. Martin is the Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney, so that
is the name appears on most criminal court documents as well as any
correspondence from the Commonwealth's Attorney office, however, Ms.
Martin may not be the
person directly 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