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About the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office

Who is the Commonwealth's Attorney and what does she do?

The Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Lynchburg is Bethany A. S. Harrison. The primary responsibilities of Mrs. Harrison and her staff are to deal strictly with the enforcement of the laws of Virginia, prosecuting all felony violations and misdemeanor offenses as appropriate.

Where is Lynchburg, Virginia?

The City of Lynchburg is in central Virginia, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and bordered by the James River. The population of Lynchburg is approximately 65,000, with the metropolitan statistical area surrounding the City boasting some 281,000 people.

Legal basics 

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor charge? 

A felony is a major crime that may be punished with a minimum of one year in jail or prison. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime that is punishable by confinement in the city jail for a maximum of 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. For more information on the criminal court process, click here.

Why am I a witness? I didn't see the crime occur. 

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 may not think that what you know about the case is significant; however, small pieces of information are often 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 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. You may call 455-3789 after 5:00 p.m. the evening before your scheduled appearance for “after-hours” docket information to determine whether or not you need to appear in court the following day.

Domestic Violence topics

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. The only person who can request the court to drop charges is the prosecutor assigned to your case. The Lynchburg 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 immediately.

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

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

  1. The victim or witness is subpoenaed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
  2. The victim or witness travels more than fifty (50) miles one-way to appear in court.
  3. 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 Victim/Witness Office at (434) 455-3790.

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 Victim/Witness Office at (434) 455-3790.

What resources are available in the community to assist me? 

Click here for a list of community resources that are available to you.

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

You should expect to receive a contact letter and brochure from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the Victim/Witness Program within one week of your incident. This letter will provide you with the names and phone numbers of the prosecutor and victim/witness assistant assigned to you case, as well as other helpful information. You may also call the Victim/Witness Office at 455-3790, should you have any questions or need immediate assistance.

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, call the police immediately (911). It is the police department’s responsibility to investigate the crime and issue any arrest warrants, if evidence suggests that a crime has been committed.

Who is being prosecuted at the present time? 

Please check out the court dates section of our web site.

Can you tell me when a court event is scheduled? 

Please check out the court dates 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 455-3760, if you need further assistance.

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

Mrs. Harrison is the acting City of Lynchburg prosecutor, 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 455-3760, 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 Mrs. Harrison at the number listed above.