VIRGINIA'S COURT SYSTEM
Virginia's court system is divided into three different trial level courts, a Court of Appeals, and a Supreme Court. The three trial level courts include: 1) General District Court; 2) Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court; and 3) Circuit Court.
The General District Court has jurisdiction over civil cases worth up to $25,000, adult misdemeneaor trials (excluding those which are family-related or deal with minors), and preliminary hearings for adult felony offenses (again excluding those which are family related or deal with minors). Pre-trial proceedings, such as discovery, tend to be more limited in the General District Courts than in Circuit Courts. If you are unhappy with the result of a General District Court trial, you may appeal the case to the Circuit Court, where you will have a new trial (also called a trial de novo). You must note your appeal within ten days of the General District Court's ruling or your right to appeal expires.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts have jurisdiction over family law issues, cases involving children, and criminal cases that involve families or children. Like General District Courts, pre-trial proceedings such as discovery are more limited in J & D Courts than in Circuit Courts, and cases tend to finish more quickly. In addition to hearing a wide variety of family law matters (though it should be noted divorce proceedings must be filed in Circuit Court), J & D courts also hear criminal cases involving adult misdemeanors where the crime is committed against a family or household member, or where the crime is commited against a child. All criminal proceedings with children as defendants are also heard in J & D Courts. You can appeal a J & D Court ruling to the Circuit Court for a trial de novo as long as you note your appeal within ten days.
Circuit Courts are the main trial level courts in Virginia, and they have originial jurisdiction over civil cases worth more than $25,000, divorce proceedings, felony trials, and appeals from the General District and J & D Courts. Discovery is more extensive in Circuit Courts, and as a result, it tends to take longer for cases to go to trial. All jury trials in Virginia are held in Circuit Courts. You have thirty days from the entry of the final order to appeal a Circuit Court ruling. Depending on the kind of case you have, appeals from Circuit Courts can go to either the Court of Appeals or straight to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Unlike appealing from a General District Court or J & D Court, you do not get a new trial after appealing from a Circuit Court. Instead, the appellate court will review the record of the trial and decide whether the Circuit Court made any errors that affected the outcome of the case. If the appellate court decides such an error was made, it may dispose of the case immediately or grant a new trial, which will occur again in the Circuit Court.