If you’ve been convicted of a crime, you are not necessarily stuck with that conviction. Systems are in place to change a court’s decision, called “appeal.” An appeal is when you reach out to another court to review your case and possibly overturn the first court’s ruling.
What happens, then, when you make an appeal and are denied? Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to take your appeal to the next highest court.
Appeals and Virginia’s Court Levels
There are four levels of courtroom justice in Virginia. When you believe you were misrepresented in one, you can appeal to the next.
General District Court
General court is Virginia’s lowest level of justice. It is designed to move cases along quickly. In it, you will find no jury, and the trial is not recorded. Its purpose is to handle minor crimes, such as traffic violations and low-level misdemeanors.
As an American citizen, you have a constitutional right to be heard by a jury of your peers. If you are convicted in the general district, you can request that your case be moved higher up. As a “matter of right,” your case can be heard in the Circuit Court. This is called a “de novo” appeal. “De novo” is a Latin term that essentially means “to start from the beginning.” Because you were not heard by a jury as is your right, the Circuit Court will hear your case anew. They will act as if the last trial never occurred, and your case will be tried from the beginning.
This is where all higher-level crimes are tried. They have a traditional jury, and in felony cases the trial is recorded. Anything from petty theft to murder can be heard by the Circuit Court. Generally, this is where Virginia wants its justice meted. Convictions and sentences are meant to be final, but you can still appeal its decisions.
Court of Appeals
As its name suggests, the Virginia Court of Appeals is designed specifically to hear cases where a defendant appeals the Circuit Court’s decision.
To appeal your conviction, your lawyer has 30 days to note your appeal to the Court of Appeals. This is not a long time in legal terms. At this stage, your lawyers must write an argument, explaining why justice was not served. It must be thorough and include all relevant actions from the original decision. Most appeals are denied, many on very technical procedural grounds. This is why you need to hire an experienced lawyer, one who can demonstrate the errors in the original decision.
The Court of Appeals is sometimes called the “court of last resort.” In most misdemeanor cases, it is the last chance for your appeal to be heard again and possibly have your conviction overturned. There is, however, one more place your case could go. If your appeal is denied, you may be able to take your case to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Virginia Supreme Court
This is the highest court in the state, and special cases make their way here. If the prosecutors did something illegal or neglected to follow proper procedure, you can appeal to the Supreme Court. If your legal team is challenging the very law itself, they can appeal to the Supreme Court. In these cases, Supreme Court appeals are for those facing incarceration or currently imprisoned.
When a defendant is not facing jail or prison, the Supreme Court can take their case if it involves a significant precedence. This would be a case where the Circuit Court ruled on something novel or unusual, and the defendant’s legal team believes justice was not served. The ruling must be up for debate, something that hasn’t been handled before or has never been handled in this way. It takes the authority of a higher court to decide how this case should be ruled. The Supreme Court’s decisions will affect similar cases going forward.
You can also appeal to the Supreme Court if you believe the Circuit Court’s decision infringed on your constitutional rights. This appeal can apply to anyone, regardless of whether they are facing incarceration.
What to Do Now
If you are facing a criminal conviction, do not lose hope. Contact a skilled attorney, and have them review your options. There are also organizations dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted. Even if your appeal was denied, there are ways to appeal again. For example, new evidence may surface that could exonerate you. When you know you are innocent, keep working with your legal team, and you may get the freedom you deserve.
For help with appeals, contact me today. I can review your case and see what options you have. For a free consultation, call (540) 827-4446 or fill out a contact form here.