The Virginia judicial system and courts are designed to resolve criminal, civil, juvenile, domestic, family law, traffic cases, and estate issues.


About Virginia Judicial System and Courts


In the Commonwealth of Virginia, litigants will have the opportunity to appear and seek relief in several different courts that serve specific functions. Generally speaking, courts in the Commonwealth hear and address matters that are criminal, civil, juvenile, domestic, and traffic cases. Under each of these general subjects are many, many subcategories that may be relevant to a particular issue you are having.


Virginia’s Courts

Virginia’s judicial system consists of several courts, including the following:

Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts

Magistrate Services

Supreme Court of Virginia

General District Court

These courts are considered trial courts and hear different matters. For example, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court deals with juvenile criminal cases and other juvenile offenses. In addition, this court hears matters involving child custody, support and visitation, and certain family abuse cases. Magistrate Services have several responsibilities, including conducting the first hearings, approving search and arrest warrants, as well as emergency protective orders.

In addition to trial courts, Virginia has several appellate courts known as the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Several Federal Courts also operate and have jurisdiction over matters in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including the Eastern and Western District Courts and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Virginia also has the administrative office of the courts. It’s known as the Office of the Executive Secretary, and it supports the administration of all the courts and magistrate offices within Virginia.


Supreme Court of Virginia


The Supreme Court of Virginia is actually one of the oldest Courts in the United States, with its roots stemming from the Charter of 1606 under which Jamestown was settled. There are 31 Circuit Court jurisdictions that operate throughout the Commonwealth and are separated by geographic location. Circuit Courts hear criminal cases involving more serious offenses, called felonies, civil actions involving larger monetary claims, and appeals from District Courts.


What Types of Cases Are Handled by the Virginia Supreme Court?

The Virginia Supreme Court, being the highest court in the Commonwealth of Virginia, primarily handles cases of significant legal importance. Its jurisdiction covers several types of cases:

  • Appeals on Civil Matters: This includes disputes involving property, contracts, family law, and other non-criminal legal issues.

  • Criminal Cases: The court reviews criminal cases, but typically only those that involve substantial questions about the interpretation or application of the law.

  • Administrative Law Reviews: It examines cases involving state regulatory agencies.

  • Death Penalty Appeals: All death penalty cases are automatically reviewed by the Virginia Supreme Court.

  • Original Jurisdiction Cases: In rare instances, the court may exercise original jurisdiction in cases where it has the first and final say, such as certain matters involving state officials.

The court’s decisions are final in terms of state law but can be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court if federal or constitutional issues are involved.


How is the Virginia Court of Appeals Different from the Supreme Court?

The Virginia Court of Appeals differs from the Supreme Court in its structure, jurisdiction, and the nature of cases it handles:

  • Intermediate Appellate Jurisdiction: The Court of Appeals serves as an intermediate appellate court, handling appeals from lower courts before they potentially reach the Supreme Court.

  • Limited Jurisdiction: Unlike the Supreme Court, which has broader discretionary powers to choose its cases, the Court of Appeals has mandatory jurisdiction over many types of cases. These include domestic relations, administrative agency decisions, and traffic infractions.

  • Criminal and Traffic Cases: The Court of Appeals primarily reviews criminal cases, including traffic infractions and misdemeanors, that do not involve substantial constitutional questions or life sentences/death penalty, which are reserved for the Supreme Court.

  • Panel Decisions: The Court of Appeals typically hears cases in panels of three judges, unlike the Virginia Supreme Court, which hears cases en banc with all justices participating.

Understanding these differences is key to comprehending the appellate process and the judicial hierarchy within Virginia’s court system. Get help from an experienced attorney.


District Courts of Virginia


There are 32 General District Court circuits that hear traffic cases, criminal cases involving minor offenses, and civil cases involving smaller monetary claims. Similar to General District Courts, there are 32 JDR circuits that have authority in matters related to juveniles and domestic relations. The term “domestic relations” refers to family relationships. 

Generally speaking, both circuit and district courts offer litigants an opportunity to appeal their cases to a higher or different court in order to review the decision of the Court or for a new trial, which may be addressed as “de novo” meaning a new trial and second chance to litigate a case. 

Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC, can guide you through the appeals process and advise you on the strengths and weaknesses of your case.


Grand Juries and Felony Cases


In felony cases, an indictment is handed down from a grand jury, which is separate and distinct from a jury that presides over a criminal or civil jury trial. A grand jury is made up of persons at least 18 years old, who have resided in the Commonwealth for at least a year, and who have been in the jurisdiction. They are called for jury duty for at least six months preceding their service. 

Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC, can guide you through the state and federal court process and assist you through the numerous options the Court system provides litigants.


How Can We Help?


When dealing with Virginia’s judicial system, having an experienced attorney by your side can be beneficial to your case. If you have been charged with a crime, having someone to defend your rights can be crucial. If you are filing a civil lawsuit or an appeal, filing it with the right court is important. A skilled lawyer can do all that for you and more.

Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC, in Warrenton, Virginia, represents clients in several practice areas, including civil litigation, criminal law, family law, and real estate law. We have a long history of representing clients throughout the Commonwealth.

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