Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Virginia Research In-Depth

This State Guide provides an in-depth look at sources of law within Virginia.

Courts and Cases

1. Courts


The Virginia court system has three levels of courts. Click here for a diagram of the system.

The Supreme Court of Virginia: It is made up of seven justices elected by the General Assembly for a renewable term of twelve years. The court has both original and appellate jurisdiction (original jurisdiction only for habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, writs of actual innocence pursuant to Virginia's Code § 19.2-327.2, and matters filed by the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission relating to judicial censure, retirement, and removal of judges). It hears appeals on a discretionary basis, except in cases involving the State Corporation Commission, the disbarment of an attorney, and review of the death penalty. Its decisions are binding on itself and on all courts below it. For details on the history and procedure of the Supreme Court, click here.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia: Is the Commonwealth's intermediate appellate court. It is a fairly new court, created in 1985. Prior to its creation, cases were appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Since the establishment of the Court of Appeals, appellate capacity has increased.* The Court of Appeals consists of eleven judges who are elected for eight year renewable terms by the General Assembly. The Court of Appeals normally sits in panels of at least three judges, although it sits en banc under certain conditions.* The Court of Appeals has original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus, prohibition and habeas corpus in any case over which the Court would have appellate jurisdiction, and also has original jurisdiction to issue a writ of actual innocence upon petition of a person who has been convicted of a felony upon a plea of not guilty. The Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over final decisions of the Virginia Circuit and General District Courts and the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, and over some interlocutory orders.* It must hear all appeals that it receives.

* For more information, click here.

The Virginia Circuit Courts: Are the highest Virginia trial courts with general jurisdiction, and the only Virginia court that holds jury trials. Circuit court judges are elected for an eight-year renewable term by the General Assembly. Jurisdiction covers most civil law and equity claims, all felonies, and appeals from the District Courts, and from administrative agencies. The circuit court system is composed of thirty-one judicial circuits with one hundred twenty separate circuit courts in the various counties and cities of the State. For more information, click here.

The District Courts. The Virginia District Courts are trial courts with limited civil and criminal jurisdiction. General District Court judges are elected for a six-yeara renewable term by the General Assembly. All cases are conducted by a judge, with no jury. There are two types of district courts in Virginia: the General District Courts and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts.

  • The General District Courts: Have jurisdiction in traffic, misdemeanor, and civil suits involving amounts of money up to $15,000. It also holds preliminary hearings in felony cases. For more information, click here.
  • The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts: Handle criminal and traffic violations by juveniles and serious family relations problems. In Virginia, a juvenile is any person under age 18. "Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts differ from other courts in their duty to protect the confidentiality and privacy of juveniles coming before the court, and in their commitment to rehabilitate those who come before the court, in addition to protecting the public and holding juvenile offenders accountable for their actions." For more information, click here.


The Commonwealth of Virginia falls within the Fourth Judicial Circuit of the United States Court System. To view the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, click here.

The Federal District (trial level) courts in Virginia are the

2. Court Opinions


Opinions of the Virginia Courts can be found as follows:


Federal Court Opinions that apply Virginia law can be found in the following sources:


  • Virginia and West Virginia Digest; Covering Cases from State and Federal CourtsKFV2457 .V5. Digests are used to find case law by topic. All published case law is represented. The Virginia Digest is a West publication. The law is organized into broad topics within which narrow topics can be found. Each topic has a key number which applies to the same topic in all jurisdictions. The digest can be searched using the index, or can be browsed using the outline at the beginning of each topic heading. The Digest is updated with semiannual pamphlets and annual pocket parts.
  • Westlaw's Digest. Use the Digest in Westlaw by navigating to the appropriate topic and key number, clicking the box to the left, and clicking "View Headnotes." The Custom Digest that you create will allow you to select Virginia law. This Digest should be identical to the print Virginia Digest for the specific topic.

3. Court Rules