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Virginia Court of Appeals

The Circuit Courts in Virginia have what’s called original jurisdiction – that means that it’s the first court to hear appeals – in felony cases. These are criminal cases where the defendant faces over a year in jail. It also has jurisdiction over large civil cases, probate and land issues, expungements of criminal records, and issues related to concealed weapons permit.

They also have the ability to hear any misdemeanor cases or traffic infractions that have been appealed from the General District Court below. What is unique about appealing to the Circuit Court is that the appeal is “de novo,” which is a Latin term which means “from new.”

In an appeal of a misdemeanor or a traffic infraction from the General District Court, the slate is wiped clean and the Circuit Court does not give any consideration to what happened in the General District Court. The defendant has an absolute right to appeal to the Circuit Court.

Once that appeal is filed, and is noted in the General District Court, then it is as if the initial proceeding never happened. To learn more about the Virginia Court of Appeals’ role in the appeals process, contact a Virginia appeals lawyer today.

Cases Heard By the Virginia Court of Appeals

The Virginia Court of Appeals hears criminal appeals from the Circuit Court. It was created in the 1980s because the Supreme Court’s docket was getting overcrowded. By having an intermediate court that specializes in certain areas, it helps to ensure that more appeals can be heard. It takes some of the weight off of the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals also hears appeals of family law matters such as divorces, appeals of worker’s compensation board decisions, and other administrative decisions. Finally, they can hear appeals of bail decisions that are made by the Circuit Court or the General District Court after a defendant is arrested.

Judges in the Court of Appeals

The judges in the Court of Appeals usually hear cases in panels of three. If an appeal is granted, the appellant (the person filing the appeal) with their Virginia appeals lawyer and the appellee (the person representing whichever party is being appealed against) will both present their cases to a panel of three judges. The judges of the Court of Appeals are elected by the legislature for eight-year terms. They, among themselves, elect the chief who organizes the panels.

When the appeal is heard, the panel will issue an opinion that states what it wants to do, if they’re going to affirm or overturn the decision of the circuit, or the worker’s compensation board, or whatever is being appealed. However, if one of the judges dissents from the opinion, then there’s a good chance that the case will be heard by the entire court in what’s called an “en banc” re-hearing.

Difference in Court Procedure

There is no jury in a Court of Appeals case. The parties are addressing only the panel of judges that will hear the case and the process is typically pretty straightforward. There is no new fact finding. Whatever facts that were determined by the trial court are given extreme deference. The appellant and the appellee only communicate with the court through written briefs and oral arguments.

They will draft their briefs outlining the issues that are being appealed and then will be able to present those issues to the court in an oral argument where the court will be able to ask questions that it has for the attorneys about the case. There is no discovery. There is no sharing of evidence. There is no proffering of new evidence. It is just an argument about whether the law was applied correctly in the trial court or whether, under the law, the verdict of the trial court or the administrative bureau or whatever is being appealed, can be supported by the facts that are assumed to be true.