The Federal Court System in Virginia
When America was founded, although the states retained the power to run their own court systems under the US Constitution, the federal government was granted a Supreme Court and “such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” See U.S. Const. Art. III, Section 1. Since then, the federal court system has evolved into a system of district courts (federal trial courts) across the many states and US territories, with at least one district court located in each state.
Furthermore, those districts are organized into 13 federal judicial circuits. Eleven of these judicial circuits are regional, one is for the District of Columbia, and one is for the federal circuit (with jurisdiction determined by subject matter, not its location).
The two federal district courts in Virginia are the Eastern District Court of Virginia and the Western District Court of Virginia. They are both, among other district courts, part of the fourth judicial circuit overseen by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
If an individual in Virginia is charged with a federal crime, the case will first be heard in the district court that has jurisdiction over the case. The trial will most likely occur in this district court. After the trial, if there is an appeal, it is handled by the Court of Appeals of the Circuit that has jurisdiction over these districts, which is the Fourth Circuit.
Eastern District Court of Virginia
The Eastern District Court of Virginia is housed in Richmond. It is also known as the Rocket Docket because of the speed with which cases go to trial. For many years, the Eastern District Court of Virginia has had one of the fastest trial dockets in the country.
The federal government is represented by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who also manages a national initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods by the US Department of Justice to reduce gun violence. This is important because one of the priorities of this initiative is heightened prosecution of federal offenses, particularly firearm offenses (insert link to Fed Gun lawyer page here).
The Eastern District of Virginia has courthouses in:
- Newport News
Any appeals from the Eastern District Court of Virginia are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is located in Richmond.
Western District Court of Virginia
The Western District Court of Virginia is seated in seven locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia:
- Big State Gap
The US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia represents the federal government in this district, including as prosecutor in criminal cases. Like the Eastern District of Virginia, any appeals from the Western District are referred to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
The Fourth Circuit, one of four regional appellate courts within the federal judicial system, is renowned as the most collegial and one of the most efficient of the Circuit Courts.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is housed in Richmond, Virginia. The federal districts which comprise the Fourth Circuit are the:
- District of Maryland
- Eastern District of North Carolina
- Middle District of North Carolina
- Western District of North Carolina
- District of South Carolina
- Eastern District of Virginia
- Western District of Virginia
- Northern District of West Virginia
- Southern District of West Virginia
Typically, there are up to 15 active judges in addition to a slate of senior judges (who hear cases occasionally).
In the Fourth Circuit, cases are heard by a panel of three judges which is determined by random selection through a computer algorithm. The panel hears oral arguments, although the Court also frequently decides cases before oral argument based on briefings. If necessary, the Court will sit en banc and all the judges will review the Fourth Circuit decision together.
Any appeals from the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit are heard by the Supreme Court.
Importance of Retaining a Federal Criminal Lawyer
In addition to everything discussed thus far, it is important to note that only certain lawyers are qualified to represent clients in federal court. Furthermore, federal criminal lawyers are accustomed to litigating against the expertise and resources of federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies (e.g., the FBI, IRS, DEA, etc.).
If you have been charged with a federal crime in Virginia and you need assistance from a federal criminal lawyer, contact a dedicated federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.