The Commonwealth of Virginia has a court system that is designed to resolve criminal, juvenile, domestic, and traffic cases fairly, quickly, and in a financially responsible way. To achieve these goals, the courts are organized into different levels—each type of court has a specific set of responsibilities.
How the Virginia Court System Is Structured
If you have a legal claim in Virginia, your case may be decided in one of the following:
- Magistrate Services. Magistrate services are available in all of Virginia’s 32 judicial districts. Magistrates are responsible for approving arrest warrants, search warrants, emergency protective orders, and other types of warrants and orders. Magistrates are also responsible for conducting the first hearings after an individual is arrested. It is the magistrates who typically conduct probable cause hearings and decide whether someone is eligible for bail.
- District Courts. Like magistrate services, district courts are part of all 32 judicial districts. The district court, also referred to as the general district court, is the first level of trial court in Virginia. District courts are authorized to hear civil cases if the amount at stake is $25,000 or less. They also hear traffic infraction and criminal misdemeanor cases.
- Circuit Courts. Virginia circuit courts are the trial courts with general jurisdiction. Circuit courts can hear the same civil cases as district courts, but it is the only trial court that can hear civil cases where more than $25,000 is in dispute. Circuit courts hear family law cases involving adoption and divorce as well as probate cases involving wills, trusts, and estate issues. Additionally, it is the responsibility of circuit court judges to hear felony cases, to hear misdemeanor cases appealed from district courts or that come directly from the grand jury, and to hear certain juvenile crime cases. The circuit court also has the duty to hear appeals from the general district court, from the juvenile and domestic relations district court, and from administrative agencies.
- Court of Appeals. The Virginia Court of Appeals has jurisdiction to review the circuit court decisions in domestic matters, the decisions of administrative agencies, the decisions of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, and court decisions on traffic and most criminal matters. There are 11 Court of Appeals judges in Virginia, and a panel of three judges is convened for each case.
- Supreme Court. In Virginia, the Supreme Court typically hears cases brought up on appeal, but in limited circumstances, it may be the first court in which a case is initiated. In most cases, the Supreme Court must agree to hear a case. However, there are a few exceptions when an individual has the right to appeal such as when the death penalty is the sentence of the lower court. Seven justices, including a chief justice, sit on the Virginia Supreme Court.
It is important to file your case or appeal with the right court, and an experienced attorney will handle all of that for you. If you’ve been charged with a crime or need assistance with a family law, estate planning, or business matter, contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you!