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West Virginia Crimes: Laws & Penalties

Have you or someone you know been charged with a crime in West Virginia? Facing criminal charges can be scary and overwhelming, but understanding the laws and potential penalties can help you navigate the legal process. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the key things you need to know about West Virginia’s criminal justice system.

Types of Crimes in West Virginia

First, let’s cover the basics. In West Virginia, crimes are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies based on their severity.


Misdemeanors are less serious offenses that are typically punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine. Common examples of misdemeanors in West Virginia include:

  • Simple assault or battery
  • Petty theft or shoplifting
  • Trespassing
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Driving under the influence (first offense)

While a misdemeanor conviction may not sound like a big deal, it can still have major consequences. You could face jail time, hefty fines, and a criminal record that impacts your ability to get a job, housing, or education.


Felonies are more serious crimes punishable by a year or more in state prison. Some examples of felony offenses in West Virginia are:

  • Murder and manslaughter
  • Rape and sexual assault
  • Robbery and burglary
  • Drug trafficking
  • Malicious assault

As you can imagine, a felony conviction carries severe, long-lasting penalties beyond just prison time. You could lose certain rights, like the ability to vote or own a firearm. A felony record makes it very difficult to secure employment, housing, and other opportunities.So how do you know if you’re facing misdemeanor or felony charges? The criminal complaint or indictment filed against you will specify the exact charges and their classifications. Your defense attorney can also advise you on the severity and potential consequences of the alleged offense.

West Virginia’s Criminal Court Process

Now that you understand the types of crimes, let’s walk through how a criminal case generally progresses in West Virginia.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
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Loveth Okpedo
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Bee L
Bee L
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divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

1. Arrest and Booking

After an arrest, you’ll be booked into jail. This is when your fingerprints and mugshot are taken, and you’ll be held until your initial court appearance or until you post bail.

2. Initial Appearance

Within a few days of your arrest, you’ll be brought before a magistrate for an initial appearance. Here, the judge will formally advise you of the charges against you and your constitutional rights. In misdemeanor cases, you’ll also be asked to enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty.

3. Preliminary Hearing

For felony cases, the next step is usually a preliminary hearing where the prosecution must show probable cause that you committed the alleged crime. If the judge finds sufficient evidence, your case will move forward to the grand jury for a potential indictment.

4. Plea Bargaining

Many criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains. This is where the defendant agrees to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge, in exchange for a more lenient sentence. Your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor and advise whether a plea deal is in your best interest.

5. Trial

Of course, you have the constitutional right to a jury trial. At trial, the prosecution bears the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney will present your defense and challenge the state’s evidence. The jury will then deliberate and render a verdict.

6. Sentencing

If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, the judge will impose a sentence. Sentencing usually occurs at a separate hearing where both sides can argue for an appropriate punishment. The judge will consider factors like your criminal history, the severity of the offense, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.This is just a high-level overview of the process. To really understand how your specific case may unfold, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced West Virginia criminal defense lawyer. They can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence against you and develop a tailored strategy for your unique situation.

Potential Penalties for West Virginia Crimes

So what kind of punishment are you facing if convicted of a crime in West Virginia? The specific penalties depend on the offense level and the details of your case. Let’s break it down:

Misdemeanor Sentences

For most misdemeanors, the maximum jail sentence is one year in county jail, but the actual penalty depends on the specific offense. Here are some examples:

  • Domestic battery (1st offense): Up to 1 year in jail and a $500 fine
  • Shoplifting (under $500): Up to 60 days in jail and a $250 fine
  • Simple possession of marijuana: Up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine

In some cases, a judge may grant alternative sentencing options like probation, community service, or substance abuse treatment instead of jail time. However, this is at the court’s discretion based on the facts of your case.

Felony Sentences

Felony convictions carry the potential for significant prison time in state facilities. West Virginia doesn’t group felonies into classes, so the possible sentence depends on the specific crime.For example:

  • Second-degree murder: 10-40 years in prison
  • First-degree robbery: At least 10 years in prison
  • Drug trafficking: 1-15 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine

Some serious felonies, like first-degree murder, carry a life sentence. Others have mandatory minimum prison terms that the judge cannot go below, even if mitigating factors exist.In addition to prison, felony convictions have other major collateral consequences. You could face steep fines, restitution to victims, loss of voting and gun rights, and difficulty finding a job or housing with a felony record.

Enhanced Penalties

It’s important to note that certain factors can increase the potential penalties for a crime in West Virginia. The most common is a prior criminal record.For example, under West Virginia’s “three strikes” law, if you have two prior felony convictions and commit a third serious felony, you face a mandatory life sentence. Other offenses like domestic violence and DUI also carry enhanced penalties for repeat offenders.The use of a gun during a crime can also lead to additional prison time beyond the underlying offense. In some cases, you could face a mandatory 5-10 years for using a firearm, even if it’s your first offense.

Defenses to West Virginia Criminal Charges

Facing serious criminal penalties can be daunting, but remember, an arrest or charge is not the same as a conviction. You have the right to defend yourself and challenge the accusations against you. Some common defenses that may apply in your West Virginia criminal case include:

  • Lack of probable cause for the arrest or charge. If the police didn’t have sufficient reason to suspect you of a crime, any resulting evidence may get thrown out.
  • Violation of your constitutional rights. If law enforcement conducted an illegal search, coerced your confession, or failed to read your Miranda rights, your attorney can fight to suppress illegally obtained evidence.
  • Mistaken identity or false accusation. You may have been wrongly identified by a witness or accused by someone with an agenda. Your lawyer can investigate and gather evidence to poke holes in the case against you.
  • Justifiable self-defense or defense of others. If you reasonably believed force was necessary to protect yourself or another person from imminent harm, you may have a valid defense to assault or homicide charges.
  • Lack of criminal intent. Some crimes require the prosecution to prove you acted intentionally or knowingly. If your actions were an accident or mistake, this can negate the required mental state.
  • Alibi showing you couldn’t have committed the crime. If you have evidence placing you elsewhere when the alleged offense occurred, this can be a strong defense.
  • Entrapment by law enforcement. Police are not allowed to coerce you into committing a crime you wouldn’t have otherwise committed just to arrest you.
  • Insanity or diminished capacity. In rare cases, a mental health condition may provide a full or partial defense if it prevented you from understanding the nature of your actions.

Not every defense applies in every case. Figuring out which ones may work for you requires a careful analysis of the facts and evidence by an attorney experienced in West Virginia criminal law.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions about West Virginia criminal law? Here are answers to some of the most common questions we hear from clients:

Q: What should I do if I’m arrested for a crime in West Virginia?

A: First and foremost, exercise your right to remain silent. Don’t try to talk your way out of it or give a statement without a lawyer present. Politely tell the police you are invoking your right to counsel. Then, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and start building your case.

Q: How much does a criminal defense lawyer cost in West Virginia?

A: Attorney fees can vary widely depending on the nature and complexity of your charges. Most criminal defense lawyers bill by the hour, with rates ranging from $150-$700 or more per hour. Some may offer a flat fee for straightforward cases like first-time DUI. Many attorneys provide a free initial consultation to discuss your case and give you a ballpark estimate.

Q: What if I can’t afford a lawyer?

A: If you’re facing jail time and can’t afford to hire your own attorney, you have the right to court-appointed counsel. At your initial appearance, tell the judge you need a public defender. You may have to fill out a financial affidavit to show your inability to pay. While public defenders are often overworked, they can still provide quality representation if you cooperate fully with them.

Q: Can I get a criminal conviction expunged in West Virginia?

A: West Virginia allows expungement of certain criminal records, but it’s limited. You may be able to get a misdemeanor conviction expunged 1 year after completing your sentence if you have no other charges pending. Felonies generally cannot be expunged unless your conviction is overturned. However, you may be able to get a more serious offense reduced to a misdemeanor and then expunged. Consult with a lawyer to see if you qualify.

Q: What happens if I violate my probation?

A: If you break the rules of your probation, you could face serious consequences like having your probation revoked and being re-sentenced up to the maximum penalty for your original offense. If you’re accused of a probation violation, you have the right to a hearing before a judge to present your side. Having an attorney represent you at a probation violation hearing can help you avoid further jail time.

The Bottom Line

No matter what crime you’re accused of in West Virginia, you have constitutional rights and defenses that can be asserted on your behalf. The best way to protect your future is to work with a skilled criminal defense lawyer who knows the ins and outs of West Virginia law.

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