The court system in Virginia is made up of District Courts, Circuit Courts, the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court. Trials are conducted in the District Courts and the Circuit Courts, but not in the Virginia Court of Appeals or the Virginia Supreme Court. The Virginia Court of Appeals and Virginia Supreme Court review proceedings from other courts looking for errors.
The District Courts
The District Court level is the entry level for courts in Virginia. These courts are not "courts of record", meaning they do not use court reporters to make verbatim recordings of proceedings in those courts. In addition, all trials in Virginia District Courts are conducted by judges. Since there are no jury trials in Virginia District Courts, defendants have an automatic right to appeal convictions and have a new trial in a Virginia Circuit Court, where a jury trial is an option. The Virginia District Court level is comprised of two different courts:
GENERAL DISTRICT COURT: The General District Court is the court in Virginia which handles all cases that are not heard by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Most cases involving adult defendants accused of misdemeanor and traffic infractions in Virginia are heard in this court. In addition, this court handles preliminary hearings for certain felony offenses involving adult defendants.
JUVENILE & DOMESTIC RELATIONS DISTRICT COURT: The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is the court in Virginia which, as the name suggests, hears cases involving juveniles and families, and is often called Juvenile Court or Family Court. Specifically, in the field of traffic and criminal offenses, this court hears cases in which: a juvenile is the alleged offender, a juvenile is the alleged victim, or the alleged offense was committed against a family or household member. Like the General District Court, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court conducts preliminary hearings for certain felony offenses.
The Circuit Court
The Circuit Court is the general trial court in Virginia and proceedings are generally more rigid and formal than in the District Courts. All trials involving felony offenses, and some trials involving traffic and misdemeanor offenses, are conducted in Virginia Circuit Courts. A Circuit Court trial may be either a bench trial (a judge decides the verdict) or a jury trial (a jury decides the verdict). In Virginia, the Circuit Court is a "court of record", which means a court reporter is present to record all proceedings involving felony offenses. The court reporter is provided by the Commonwealth at no expense to the accused. Due to the severity of the possible consequences and the formality of the proceedings, it is even more important for citizens to have the assistance of an experienced lawyer.