If you are charged with a crime in Manassas, Virginia the following is information on the various levels of court and what types of cases are heard in each. For more specific information regarding your case, call and schedule a consultation with a Manassas criminal lawyer today.
There are several tiers involved in the Manassas court system.
The first two levels of courts are the General District Court and the Juvenile Domestic Relations General District Court. District Courts have jurisdiction to hear and try cases involving infractions and misdemeanors. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court hears infractions and misdemeanors where the defendant is less than 18 years of age or the alleged victim is a “family member” of the defendant as defined by Virginia law.
All other infractions and misdemeanors are heard in the General District Court. These two courts also hold preliminary hearings in felony cases, which are sometimes called probable cause hearings, to determine whether there is enough evidence for a case to move forward to Circuit Court for trial.
The next level up is the Circuit Court. Circuit Court is where felony cases are heard and tried and is also where misdemeanor appeals are heard. Every misdemeanor in Virginia comes with an automatic right to appeal, so a defendant who is unhappy with the outcome of their General District Court case may ask to have a new trial in Circuit Court.
The tier above the Circuit Court is the Virginia Court of Appeals. This court hears appeals from criminal trials at the Circuit Court, where either the defendant or the Commonwealth alleges that there was some kind of technical or legal error during the trial, or that the judge made a mistake, such as incorrectly admitting or excluding evidence, or that the facts in the case did not support a conviction under Virginia Law.
The highest level of court in Virginia, and often the last resort for criminal defendants, is the Supreme Court of Virginia. If a defendant is unhappy with the outcome of their case in the Virginia Court of Appeals, they may appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Virginia Supreme Court generally gets discretion on which cases they will consider, and if it chooses to consider a case, it determines whether there were any errors made during the trial.
The Virginia Supreme Court then makes determinations about the correct application and interpretation of the law and, in some cases, it will enter final judgment and in others it will return the case back to the trial court to be retried.
The three most common places for cases to be heard are the General District Court, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and the Circuit Court. It is important to understand that at any time if an individual is charged with a misdemeanor in one of the District Courts and they are unhappy with the outcome of the case, they have an absolute right to have their case heard de novo in the Circuit Court. A de novo review means that the Circuit Court will give a new trial with a new judge as though the first trial had never occurred.
Importantly, most cases tried in the Circuit Court as appeals from General District Court will not result in a subsequent appeal. While it may be the case that there is an appealable error made during this trial, they are relatively rare. In most cases where either a felony case or a misdemeanor appeal has been tried in the Circuit Court from General District Court, the Circuit Court’s judgment will be final on the issue.
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