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Virginia Supreme Court

The Virginia Supreme Court is able to hear appeals directly from the trial court in civil matters and death penalty cases, as well as appeals from the Court of Appeals in criminal cases where the defendant is facing jail time or if there is a significant precedential value in determining the case or if there is a constitutional issue. The Supreme Court also has a lot of power to set its own docket.

If a criminal case is in the Court of Appeals the Supreme Court can, at any time, take the case and remove it from the Virginia Court of Appeals and put it on its own docket in the interest of finality or getting a matter resolved quickly. Having an experienced Virginia appeals lawyer throughout the process can help you get a better grasp on the situation and its progress.

Judges in the Virginia Supreme Court

Unlike the Court of Appeals, the Virginia Supreme Court almost always sits en banc. There are seven judges on the court. They are elected by the legislature to 12-year terms and they’re able to serve until a mandatory retirement age of 70.

But, if their term is still going on, they can also sit as senior justices at times sit in place of other justices who may recuse themselves. The court issues opinions. If four of the seven justices agree, then that will be the opinion of the court.

Court Procedure in the Virginia Supreme Court

The Virginia Supreme Court procedure is very similar to the procedure in the Court of Appeals. It is entirely based on written and oral communications from the attorneys to the justices of the court. Again, there’s no new evidence except in very rare circumstances, such as matters involving Writs of Actual Innocence. They hear appeals based on alleged errors of law committed by the trial court or the Court of Appeals.

Arguments the Virginia Supreme Court Hears

The Virginia Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over petitions for habeas corpus, writs of mandamus, writs of prohibition, writs of actual innocence. These are all collateral appeals that don’t necessarily involve errors made by the trial court. They also have original jurisdiction for appeals by attorneys from Virginia State Bar disciplinary actions.

The Virginia Supreme Court will hear arguments based on written briefs and oral arguments. Oral arguments in the Virginia Supreme Court are generally limited to 15 minutes per side and each side will try to present the case in as clear and coherent a fashion as they can.

The justices will usually interject with questions that they need answered as well. The Court will proceed through a briefing schedule and then through oral arguments. After the oral arguments, the Supreme Court will recess and eventually will issue its ruling and its mandate, which is the final order that is given to instate its judgment.

Possible Outcomes

A Virginia appeals attorney cannot guarantee outcomes, but it’s possible the appeal will be rejected. The majority of appeals are rejected by the Supreme Court. However, if an appeal is successful, it’s very likely that it will be remanded to the trial court, in most cases the Circuit Court, for a new proceeding consistent with the opinion of the Supreme Court.

If the appellant prevails in the Supreme Court, most likely the case will go back to the trial court and the proceeding will commence for either for a new trial or a new sentencing or for whatever area the court has corrected the mistake.

Vacated or Affirmed Sentences

If the sentence is affirmed in the Virginia Supreme Court then that is the end of the road unless there is a federal issue or a constitutional issue or unless there is a petition for habeas corpus. On matters of Virginia state law, the Virginia Supreme Court is the court of final authority.

If there is an issue related to the United States Constitution, then a judgment affirming a sentence can be appealed further to the United States Supreme Court. But for any matter involving just state law, the affirmance of a sentence is the end of the road.

If a conviction or sentence is vacated, then the case will likely be remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. This can benefit a defendant even though they may be apprehensive about a new trial.

This could also result in prosecutors reevaluating a case and possibly making better offers for plea agreements or even terminating further prosecution and dismissing the case. But in the vast majority of cases where a conviction or sentence is vacated, the case will be remanded back to the trial court for a new trial or sentencing.