Whether you are charged with a serious felony or a simple traffic offense, it’s important to know where your case will be heard. For this reason, the following are frequently asked questions on the important places to know for criminal cases. To discuss your case in more detail consult with a Virginia criminal defense lawyer today.
If you’re charged in Virginia with any offense, traffic or criminal, your case will first be heard in the general district court. The general district court will be the place were a misdemeanor or traffic infraction will either go to trial, be dismissed, or be resolved as a plea.
If you’re charged with a felony, your first stop will still be general district court, but it will not be for trial. The accused has a right to have a preliminary hearing on all felonies in that court, meaning a judge will hear evidence and determine whether there’s probable cause to believe that the person charged committed the felony offense that is alleged. If the judge finds that there is probable cause, the case will be bound over to the Grand Jury for further action. So whether it is a felony, misdemeanor or traffic infraction, General District Court is the first place where a case will be heard in Virginia.
Traffic matters are first heard in the general district court in Virginia. There, either the prosecutor will dismiss the charges because they don’t have evidence, a plea will be entered, or there will be a trial.
At a trial, witnesses will be called on behalf of the commonwealth’s attorney and the state will have to meet their burden which is the same in traffic offenses as it is in criminal cases–beyond a reasonable doubt, The defendant can also put on evidence to help show that they are not in fact guilty. In General District Court, a judge will hear the case, not a jury, and the judge will determine the sentence if a defendant is found guilty after trial. If a defendant is acquitted after trial in General District Court, the case is over and the defendant can’t be tried for the same offense because to do so would violate the Constitution’s prohibition against “double jeopardy”. If the accused is found guilty in general district court, whether by a plea or after trial, that person has the automatic right to appeal anew to Circuit Court. In Circuit Court in traffic matters, the defendant is entitled to a trial by jury if they so desire, and can plead guilty to a judge, or if the Commonwealth agrees, have the trial in Circuit Court heard by a judge.
In Virginia there are unique laws about when police can take you into custody and when they must release someone pursuant to a summons. In many misdemeanor and traffic offenses you won’t be taken anywhere after arrest, but rather will be issued a summons which you sign promising to appear in court to answer the charges.
If, however, you meet the criteria in the Virginia Code to be taken into custody you will be taken to “booking” which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but is typically the local jail. There, you will be fingerprinted, searched, possibly questioned, and eventually taken in front of a magistrate, who is a state employee and will hear the allegations against you as told by police and will either issue warrants or refuse to issue warrants. If they issue warrants, the magistrate will also determine whether you can be released on bond or held until arraignment. If the magistrate doesn’t approve any warrants you will be released.