For those charged with a criminal offense in Virginia, the following is basic information on the court system and what types of cases are heard in each court. For more specific information regarding your case or to begin building a defense, call and schedule a consultation with a Virginia criminal lawyer today.
Most cases in the Commonwealth of Virginia originate in the general district court. This is a court not of record, which means is that there is no court-employed court reporter taking notes or creating transcripts of the happenings in the general district court.
The general district court typically handles traffic cases all the way up to felony preliminary hearings. This court is going to hear the majority of misdemeanor and traffic cases. If you are found guilty in the general district court for traffic infractions or criminal misdemeanors, you may appeal the case de novo, which means it starts over completely in the circuit court of that jurisdiction. A circuit court is a court of record. From there, you may appeal the case from the circuit court to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and the case typically has to have an error on the record in order to prevail with the Court of Appeals.
While the general district court is the trial court for misdemeanors, it cannot conduct a trial for guilt or innocence in a felony matter. Instead, circuit courts are the trial courts for all felony matters. In addition, circuit courts are the only courts in Virginia in which you have the constitutional right to a jury trial. In the case of a misdemeanor appeal or a felony trial, you may pursue a jury trial at the circuit court level. In the circuit court, a misdemeanor jury trial will have seven jurors and a felony jury trial will have twelve (12) jurors.
Another unusual aspect of the Virginia court system is that if you request a jury trial, the jury not only finds guilt or innocence, but also recommends the sentence. In the majority of states, juries do not do sentencing; that is left completely to the judge. However, Virginia juries do recommend a sentence after hearing the evidence determining guilt or innocence.
One important thing to consider about the court system are that criminal defense attorneys deal with the court system on a daily basis. Most first-time litigants are unfamiliar with court rules, procedures and local practice. For these reasons, among many others, if you are charged with a criminal offense in Virginia, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Local attorneys are aware of the procedures and rules of the local court system, and that’s one of the many reasons that an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in receiving the best outcome possible in your case.
Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law