If you are charged with a criminal offense in Fairfax, the following is information on the different courts involved in the criminal process and what types of cases are heard in each. To learn which ones may be applicable to your case, call and schedule a consultation with a Fairfax criminal defense attorney today.
In Fairfax and throughout the rest of Virginia, if you are accused of a crime the first place you will appear is in the General District Court. If you are facing a misdemeanor your entire trial will be held in the General District Court, and if you’re facing a felony then you will appear in General District Court before having your trial held in the Circuit Court.
If you are charged with a felony, you are entitled to preliminary hearing in General District Court during which a judge decides whether probable cause exists to believe you committed the crime that the state is accusing you of. This is an evidentiary hearing, meaning the state has to put on evidence to meet their burden. You can also waive your right to this hearing to put yourself in a better position in Circuit Court.
If the judge determines that the state has put on enough evidence to show that probable cause exists that you committed the felony offense, the court will “bind” the case over to the grand jury. Once the grand jury hears your case, if they choose to indict you, then your next step is in circuit court.
Once in the circuit court on the felony, you can either plead guilty to a misdemeanor, plead guilty to a felony, have a trial either by a jury or by a judge, or have your case dismissed by the prosecution.
For a misdemeanor case, you will first appear in General District Court where a judge will hear your case. You can plead guilty as charged, guilty to a lesser offense if offered by the prosecutor, or you can have a trial. A trial will be heard by a judge, there is no right to a jury in General District Court.
Once the judge makes the ruling, if you’re unsatisfied with the outcome, you have an automatic right to appeal “de novo”, which means “anew” to Circuit Court. Once you’re in Circuit Court, your case essentially starts over from scratch, the proceedings in GDC will have no effect on the Circuit Court. If you want a jury trial, you’re entitled to that right on any misdemeanor or traffic offense in Circuit Court. Once in Circuit Court on a misdemeanor appeal, you will either have a trial or you can still enter to a plead guilty to a lesser charge, plead to the charge as charged or have the case dismissed if the prosecutor doesn’t think they have enough evidence.
Once you’re done in circuit court on either a felony or a misdemeanor, the next level is the Court of Appeals of Virginia. The Court of Appeals will only hear issues that were raised at trial and the Court will make a ruling as to the legality of the proceedings of the Circuit Court. If you are denied an appeal by the Court of Appeals, you can appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, the highest court in Virginia. They will be looking to see whether the Court of Appeals was correct on their rulings on what happened during the trial in Circuit court.
After the Supreme Court of Virginia, you’re pretty much exercised all of your remedies. There is, of course, the United States Supreme Court to which you can appeal. But they accept a very small percentage of cases appealed to them so it is very, very rare that a case will make it to the Supreme Court.