General District Court
(I) Types of General District Court Cases
Criminal Cases. The General District Court hears and decides cases in which a person is charged with a misdemeanor offense.
They also hold preliminary hearings in felony cases. A felony charge is more significant and carries a higher weight of punishment. Preliminary hearings in felony cases are held to determine whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the offense in order to justify holding the defendant for a grand jury hearing. The grand jury determines whether the accused will be indicted and held for trial by the Circuit Court.
Each defendant in a criminal case is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Upon consideration of the evidence, the judge decides the question of guilt or innocence.
Traffic Cases. The general district court hears cases in which a person is charged with a traffic offense. Most traffic offenses are traffic infractions, which are generally punishable by a fine.
Civil Cases. The general district court decides civil suits involving certain smaller amounts of money. A suit is begun by filing a civil warrant with the clerk of the court.
(II) Procedure in Criminal and Traffic Cases
If you are a defendant/victim: When the case is called, enter the courtroom with your lawyer if you have one, and the court officials will direct you where to sit. The charge will be read to the defendant. If either party is asking for a postponement, that should be done at this point. If not, the court will proceed with the trial. Either the judge or participating lawyers will direct this court proceeding.
If there is a plea of guilty: The judge may hear a brief statement from the officer, prosecutor or individual who brought the criminal charge. The court may or may not need or present any additional statements by the defendant or victim. On misdemeanor charges, the court will then find the defendant guilty and will punish accordingly.
If there is not a plea of guilty: The testimony and evidence of the Commonwealth Attorney will be heard first. The defendant or their attorney may cross-examine each witness. Secondly, the defendant will be heard and/or have the opportunity to present witnesses or testimony in rebuttal. After evidence from both sides are heard, attorney's from both sides will have the opportunity to make a closing remark. The judge will then render the decision of the court (guilty or not-guilty).
Failure to Appear
In certain criminal cases, if you fail to appear in court after being served with a subpoena, a show cause or warrant may be issued against you on the charge of failure to appear. You then will have to stand trial for that charge.
Appeals to the Circuit Court
(a) In criminal and traffic cases, the defendant has the right to appeal their conviction to be heard in the Circuit Court. Each defendant must file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the General District Court within ten days of their judgment or conviction.
(b) In the matter of civil Protective Orders, either party has the right to appeal this matter to the Circuit Court. They must file a notice of appeal in General District court within ten days.
(For more detailed information regarding the Virginia Court System please visit
the Supreme Court of Virginia website at: www.courts.state.va.us)