An oral argument is just a presentation of the case by both the appellant and the appellee to the Virginia appeals court – either the panel or the entire court. The court will have the opportunity to ask any questions it has about the witness submissions that they read and to formulate its opinion in the case.
The oral argument takes place after all the written briefing to the court is completed. After that is completed, the clerk of the court be it the Court of Appeals or the Virginia Supreme Court will docket the case for oral argument. In both courts, criminal matters tend to get higher priority than other matters.
A lot of the time criminal cases would be heard sooner than other civil cases or appeals of administrative decisions and things like that. The parties are usually given at least 15 days’ notice that the oral arguments will be occurring.
Once that notice is given, the parties have to arrange their thoughts and prepare to present the case orally to the appellate court. Someone who is facing the appeals process for the first time would benefit from having an experienced Virginia appeals attorney by their side to provide guidance throughout the process.
The court will recess. They will deliberate and then they will issue their written opinion and that opinion will either affirm the lower court judgment or overrule it, often with instructions on remanding the case. At this point, either party can appeal that ruling, if it’s from the Court of Appeals, to the Virginia Supreme Court if they so choose or can move for rehearing by the court that issued the opinion.
But after oral argument, there will be some period of time of deliberation and formulation of the opinion and then the opinion will be issued and that will determine what happens with the case.
The writ panel is addressed by the attorneys for the appellant and the appellee. They both can make their argument as to why a petition for appeal should and should not be granted. The panel will then make that determination as to whether it should. There’s not necessarily a requirement a person’s Virginia appellate attorney even address the panel if they don’t feel it’s necessary, but it probably would be in their interest to if they’re especially opposed to the petition being granted.
The goal of the oral argument is to clear up any matters that may still be unclear from the written briefing. Written briefs in appeals are generally going to be very clearly organized. They identify, with specificity, the issues that have arisen and the remedies that are sought, but the court may still ask questions. There are still multiple ways to look at certain things. During oral argument, the court will get the chance to ask those questions of the attorney.
Likewise, the attorneys will get the chance to flush out arguments that they have made in maybe a different fashion than they made them in their written briefs.
A client appealing a court decision will have no role during the oral argument process. The oral arguments are handled entirely by a person’s Virginia appeals lawyer and the prosecution’s lawyer. The client doesn’t even have to be present. If the client is not in jail, then they are welcome to attend, but oral arguments are handled entirely by the attorney. The client does not have to play any role.
The only possible exception could be in a matter involving a writ of actual innocence, which is a special type of appeal where new evidence has arisen and testimony may need to be proffered in front of the appellate court that would indicate that this new evidence is pertinent to the actual innocence of a convicted person, but that’s a very rare circumstance.
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