For Virginians who need to navigate their state's legal system, it can be helpful to have an understanding of its structure.
In many instances, a citizen's first contact with the system is with a magistrate. A magistrate's job is to review complaints of criminal conduct brought by law enforcement. Magistrates may issue arrest warrants, search warrants, emergency protective orders, or custody orders.
The bottom level of the state's four-tier court structure is made up of the district courts, which are divided into two divisions: general district courts and the juvenile and domestic relations district courts. The general district courts hear civil cases involving amounts of less than $25,000 and conducts trials for traffic infractions and misdemeanors. The juvenile and domestic relations courts hear cases involving children and families.
The next level is the circuit court, which is Virginia's primary trial court. It has jurisdiction over all types of civil and criminal cases.
The state's intermediate appeals court, the Court of Appeals, is the next level up in the system. This court reviews decisions of the circuit courts in domestic relations cases, criminal cases, appeals from administrative agencies, and decisions of the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission.
At the top of the structure is the Supreme Court of Virginia, the state's court of final resort. The Supreme Court hears appeals from the circuit courts and the Court of Appeals and certain disciplinary actions of the Virginia State Bar regarding attorneys.
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