Understanding Virginia’s Court System

The U.S. legal system is complicated, with federal and state courts operating independently of each other. The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington DC is the final court of appeal. State courts are courts of “general jurisdiction” (judiciallearningcenter.org) that hear all the cases not specifically selected for federal courts. Just as the federal courts interpret federal laws, state courts interpret state laws. Each state gets to make and interpret its own laws.

The Virginia judicial (court) system’s mission “is to assure that disputes are resolved justly, promptly, and economically.” To accomplish this, the state has four levels of courts: the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the circuit courts, and the district courts. The courts are organized into 32 judicial districts and 31 judicial circuits.
(1) The limited district courts hear civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is a limited jurisdiction court that hears cases involving children and families.
(2) The circuit courts are the general jurisdiction trial courts with authority to try all types of civil and criminal cases. The chief circuit court judge can also appoint Special Justices, judicial officers who are specially authorized by statute to hear certain mental health commitment matters.
(3) Virginia’s Court of Appeals reviews decisions of the circuit courts in domestic relations matters, traffic infractions and criminal cases (except death penalty cases), appeals from administrative agencies, and decisions of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.
(4) The Supreme Court of Virginia is Virginia’s court of last resort. It reviews decisions of the circuit courts and the Court of Appeals when such appeals have been allowed, decisions from the State Corporation Commission, and certain disciplinary actions of the Virginia State Bar regarding attorneys.
Additionally, Virginia has magistrates’ services. The magistrate’s primary functions are to conduct probable cause hearings on complaints of criminal conduct brought by law enforcement or the general public, and to determine whether an arrested person is eligible for bail.
When you are involved in a court proceeding, you need an experienced attorney to help see you through what may seem like a complex and daunting process.
Craig Follis has extensive experience in litigation, negotiating and settling suits, and providing legal opinions on liability and insurance coverage. You can reach him at (888) 703-0109 or via email at cfollis@lawyersva.com.

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