A unified system that is dedicated to resolving civil and criminal disputes expeditiously, justly and economically, the Virginia judicial hierarchy is divided into four levels. The tribunals at the various judicial levels comprise of judges, court personnel and standardized rules of practice and procedure.
In the present system the Supreme Court of Virginia is in the apex position, the next in line is the Court of Appeals followed by the circuit courts and finally the district courts. Together these courts are divided among 31 judicial circuits and 32 districts. The judiciary employs more than 2600 people including magistrates, judges and clerks
The Supreme Court: Also known as the Court of Last Appeal, this is the highest judicial entity in the state of Virginia. The apex body reviews the decisions given by the circuit courts and the Court of Appeals. It also presides over matters concerning disciplinary actions taken by the Virginia Bar Association.
The Supreme Court has both appellate and original jurisdiction; however, its primary function is to review matters that come up from tribunals at the lower levels. Appeals to the Supreme Court are not allowed as a matter of right in VA except in capital punishment cases and disputes involving the State Corporation Commission.
Court of Appeals: This is the appellate court in the state which receives cases from the circuit tribunals. It reviews the decision of the lower tribunals in matters pertaining to domestic disputes, criminal cases and traffic infractions. Appeals to this court are a matter of right and as such all litigants who are unhappy with the verdict given by a circuit court can approach the Court of Appeals.
The decisions taken by the tribunal are final and a binding on disputing parties when the case in question is about a misdemeanor or a traffic violation that is not punishable by a prison term. The bench of the Court of appeals comprises of 11 judges who sit in panels of 3 while hearing cases. The court convenes at locations designated by the chief justice, so that everybody from the common wealth gets access to the tribunal.
The circuit court: Within the state there are 31 judicial circuits each with a circuit court to its credit. Circuit courts have general jurisdiction hence they can hear a range of matters from the criminal to the civil. Generally, these tribunals will rule in criminal, cases as well as matters where the monetary dispute is in the range of $4500 to $25,000.
It also hears cases pertaining to the attachment of property and the validity of an ordinance, divorce proceedings, adoption cases and more. A part from these, the Circuit Court also receives matters that are appealed from the juvenile and general district courts.
General District Court: The state judiciary also has 32 district courts that rule in civil matters where the disputed amount does not exceed $25,000 and in criminal cases for misdemeanor offenses and traffic infractions. Within the 32 judicial districts there are general district and juvenile/domestic relations district courts in every county and city.
These tribunals are designed to handle criminal cases involving misdemeanors and municipal or civic ordinance violations where the punitive liability does not exceed a prison term of 1 year and/or fine of $2500. As far as civil cases go, these tribunals rule in matters where the dispute amount is to the tune of $5000 tops. In fact claims for less than $4500 can only be initiated in the general district courts in Virginia.
Matters involving juveniles and family issues are heard by the juvenile and domestic relations district court. These are limited jurisdiction trial tribunals and they exclusively deal in matters involving children and families including juvenile delinquency, foster care, guardianship and the like.