Virginia’s District Court System consists of both the General District Court and the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Courts. Throughout the 32 judicial districts in the Commonwealth, there are General District and Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Courts in every city and county. The District Court System handles the following types of cases:
Misdemeanor Criminal Offenses
The General District Court hears all criminal cases involving misdemeanors under state law and violations of ordinances, laws, and by-laws of the counties or cities in which they are located. Misdemeanors are any charges that carry penalties of up to 1 year in jail or fines up to $2,500, or both.
The Code of Virginia defines criminal offenses and sets the penalties for offenses within the Commonwealth. When a penalty is or includes a fine, those fines are collected and paid into the treasury of the city, town, or county in which the violation has occurred, or in the case of a violation of a state statute, the fines are paid into the coffers of the State Treasury. Every case in General District Court is heard by a judge. There are no jury trials at this level of court in the Virginia System
General District courts also exercise jurisdiction over civil cases in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $25,000. While the General District court shares concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts for amounts between $4,500 and $25,000, any claim in Virginia that is for less than $4,500 must be filed in the General District Court. Virginia employs the use of a separate small claims division of the District Courts to handle civil actions where the claim does not exceed $5,000.
General District Courts also hear cases involving traffic infractions which can result in judicially imposed fines and penalties as well as points against an individual’s driving record which are assessed by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
The General District Courts also hold preliminary hearings in felony cases. Felonies are defined as any offense which may be punishable by imprisonment of more than one year. Preliminary hearings are used to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a defendant for a grand jury hearing. A grand jury determines if a defendant will be indicted and held for trial in a circuit court.
Juvenile & Domestic Relations Matters
Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Courts handle cases involving:
- Juvenile delinquency and status offenses
- Juveniles accused of traffic violations
- Children in need of services or supervision
- Children subjected to abuse or neglect
- Children who are abandoned or without parental guardianship
- Foster care and entrustment agreements
- Children for whom relief of custody or termination of parental rights is requested
- Adults accused of child abuse or neglect, or of offenses against family or household members
- Adults involved in disputes concerning the custody, visitation or support of a child
- Spousal support
- Minors seeking emancipation or work permits
- Court-ordered rehabilitation services
- Court consent for certain medical treatments
A juvenile is any person under the age of 18, in the Commonwealth. If a court finds that a juvenile has committed an act, which would be a crime if committed by an adult, that juvenile will be adjudicated “delinquent.” A “status offender” is a juvenile who has committed a violation, which, if committed by an adult would not be a crime, for example, a curfew violation. When a child is “in need of supervision” they are deemed to have habitually and unjustifiably been absent from school or run away from home. Children “in need of services” need treatment, rehabilitation or other services in order to keep the child or his family safe, and the intervention of the court is required.
Anyone subject to a General District Court or Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court order or judgment has an automatic right of appeal to the Circuit Court. Appeals must be noted with the clerk of the court within 10 days of the district court’s decision. Any case appealed to the Circuit Court will be reheard as a de novo appeal (a completely new case).