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Virginia Legal Research

The Law Library has an extensive collection of materials specific to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Courts in Virginia

District Courts

Like most states, the district courts are split into Civil and Criminal divisions. There are 32 districts in Virginia and each has two basic courts: the General District Court and the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court. These are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning they are restricted in what kinds of cases they can hear.

  • The General District Court may hold trials for (1.) civil cases where the amount of money in dispute is less than $25,000, (2.) criminal cases where the charges are misdemeanors, and (3.) traffic infractions.
  • The Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court hears cases that involve children and families, including, but not limited to (1.) child custody, (2.) child abuse or neglect, (3.) juvenile criminal or traffic infractions, and (4.) domestic violence.

Circuit Courts

There are Circuit Courts located in each City and County in Virginia that take cases outside of the District Courts' jurisdiction. The courts have jurisdiction over:

  • Civil cases over $25,000, although it may take civil cases with claims between $4,500 and $25,000 from the District Courts.
  • Criminal cases for felony charges. A crime is a felony if it is "punishable with death or confinement in a state correctional facility." Va. Code. Ann. § 18.2-8 (2016). 
  • Family and Divorce cases
  • Appeals from decisions of both the General District Courts and the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court.
  • Appeals from decisions of administrative agencies.

Court of Appeals of Virginia

The Court of Appeals has eleven judges who generally sit in 3-judge panels to hear appeals from the lower courts. Like most appellate-level courts, it has some cases which it must hear and some that it can choose to hear. While appeals of criminal, traffic, concealed weapons permit, and certain preliminary rulings in felony cases are presented by a petition for appeal--which means the judges decide if they wish to hear the case--all other appeals to the Court of Appeals are a matter of right.

Supreme Court of Virginia

The Supreme Court of Virginia has seven Justices, who hear appeals from cases that have exhausted the lower courts. There are only three types of cases that the Supreme Court must hear--what is called 'a matter of right':

Appellants for any decisions not considered "final" from the Court of Appeals can petition the Supreme Court. For the most part, traffic, misdemeanor, domestic cases, and review of agency decisions decided by the Court of Appeals are final decisions and cannot be appealed to the Supreme Court. 

There are few matters that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over, meaning the case is sent directly to that court without having to go to a lower court first. Generally, cases involving judicial discipline, matters involving habeas corpus where detained persons can ask the Court to review if their detention is legal, writs of mandamus and prohibition to compel public officers to perform or stop performing their duties, and petitions asserting actual innocence where a person convicted of a crime has DNA evidence exonerating them, may go to the Court directly.

Sources of Virginia Supreme Court Cases

Recent Opinions of the Virginia Supreme Court

Official Publication and Historical Opinions

  • The Virginia Reports (see above) are the official print publication for opinions issued by the Supreme Court of Virginia. There have been over 290 volumes of the Virginia Reports published so far, dating back to 1790.
  • See Historical Collection of Case Law in Virginia for more detailed dates.

Records on Appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court

Virginia Supreme Court Records and Briefs
The Law Library maintains a database of records and briefs filed in the Supreme Court of Virginia.  Most of these documents are available in print in the Law Library; however, some of the more recent documents are available in electronic format.  Older briefs are also available via the Law Library's subscription in HeinOnline.

Finding Cases by Subject

The reporters listed above collect opinions issued by the court chronologically. Each volume tends to collect the opinions from a particular year or session the court sat for. 

To locate cases organized by subject, publishers often create digests. 

Digests are usually organized for a specific jurisdiction - such as the Digest of Virginia and West Virginia published by West - then broken down into a series of topics for that region. 

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