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How Does The Virginia Court Of Appeals Work?
The Court of Appeals of Virginia is an intermediate appellate court that was established to expand the Virginia judicial system’s capacity and quicken the appellate process. It has limited appellate jurisdiction. Appeals heard at the court are either as a matter of right or a discretionary appeal. The Court of Appeals only has original jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus, prohibition, and mandamus in cases that fall under its appellate jurisdiction. Following the petition from individuals convicted of a felony offense, the court can also issue writs of actual innocence based on non-biological proof.
The Court of Appeals has the authority to hear appeals, as a matter of right, that involve:
- Final verdicts, orders, and decrees of a lower court family matters such as divorce, custody, family support, child support, and other domestic-related cases;
- Final verdicts of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission on matters brought before it;
- Decisions on appeals made by the Circuit Court involving decisions from an administrative agency;
- Temporary orders that were granted on a matter in any of the cases listed above.
The Virginia Court of Appeals also hears cases by discretionary appeal. These are petitions for appeals that the court is not mandated to handle. However, the court may consider petitions for appeals based on its discretion if it involves:
- Verdicts on traffic-related cases and criminal convictions that are not punishable by death
- Finals judgments made by a Circuit Court on concealed weapons permits
- Selected preliminary decisions in felony cases
- A Circuit Court’s final order regarding the imposed medical or psychological treatment of inmates
- Decisions on the violation of a person’s free exercise of religion by the government
For cases involving criminal convictions and traffic infractions, persons may submit a petition for appeal within thirty days from the Circuit Court’s judgment to the Court of Appeals. Upon applying for a judicial review by the Court of Appeals, a judge or more will receive the petition. The judge(s) that receives the appeal may grant it without oral argument. Both parties of the appeal may then file their briefs with the court clerk, who will then refer them to a panel.
If a petition is not granted, petitioners have the right to request an appearance before a panel to explain why their petitions should be granted. However, the panel of judges may deny the appeal and end the case. Petitions granted by the panel will initiate further proceedings where both parties can argue their case.
The Virginia Court of Appeals is obligated to hear cases of appeals involving domestic relations, decisions made by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, and other administrative agencies such as the Department of Health. Petitions are not needed for these appeals. Hence, both parties file their briefs, which are assigned to a panel of three judges. Oral arguments are automatically scheduled, but the parties’ counsel may send written notices to court if they wish to waive them. After an oral argument, the Court recesses, and the judges decide on an opinion about the case, which the panel will issue in written form.
Upon the issuance of a decision, the aggrieved party may petition for rehearing of the final verdict. If the rehearing is granted, the same panel that gave the final decision will preside over the rehearing. Interested individuals can view documents containing published opinions on previous cases. The general public also has access to previous oral arguments that are available on the court’s Recordings of Oral Arguments page.
The Appellate Case Management System for the Court of Appeals of Virginia can be used to obtain information on cases heard at the court. Users can retrieve information by searching by the details of the case and the parties involved.
Although the decision made by the Court of Appeals is final for some cases, the Supreme Court may review such decisions upon a petition to review. The Court of Appeals has the final decision on the following appeals:
- Traffic infractions and misdemeanor cases that are not punishable by imprisonment.
- Domestic relations cases including divorce, marriage, child custody, child support, alimony, paternity, and other family-related matters
- Matters on administrative agencies or the Virginia Workers
- Compensation Commission
The Court of Appeals comprises eleven judges that serve a term of eight years. The General Assembly must vote in the majority to elect each judge. Suppose a judgeship position is vacant at a time the General Assembly is not in session. In that case, a candidate may be appointed by the Governor until thirty days after a new legislative session begins.
The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals serves a four-year term. The judges’ majority vote is needed for a pre-existing judge to be elected as the chief judge. Eligibility for a judgeship position requires candidates:
- To reside in Virginia;
- Not be older than the retirement age of seventy-three; and
- Be a member of the Virginia State Bar for at least five years.
Typically, an appellate panel in Virginia consists of at least three judges. The Chief Judge assigns judges to these panels. However, the Court of Appeals sits in full/en banc to re-address cases and also overrule prior orders and verdicts made by a panel. Generally, the Court of Appeals sits en banc when:
- An aggrieved party is not satisfied with the decision of a panel and requests an en banc hearing. A vote will ensue, and at least four judges must be in support of such hearings;
- An appellate judge believes that the panel’s decision contrasts with a prior verdict by the court, and at least three other judges support the opinion;
- If the court, on its initiative, decides the judges should sit as a whole
Except in appeals where the court of Appeals’ decisions are final, individuals who aren’t satisfied with the decisions may petition the Supreme Court for an appeal.
The Court of Appeals sits at the location: