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How Does The Virginia Supreme Court Work?

The Supreme Court of Virginia is the apex court in the Virginia State court system. It maintains both original and appellate jurisdiction. Typically, the Supreme Court is responsible for reviewing verdicts from the trial courts. Also, appeal court cases that involve the State Corporation Commission, penal actions against attorneys, and the review of capital punishments are brought before the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over:

  • Habeas corpus cases
  • Cases of Mandamus
  • Writs of prohibition
  • Writs of actual innocence based on biological evidence
  • Cases filed by the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (judicial censure, retirement, and dismissal of judges)

Many cases heard at the Virginia Supreme Court are discretionary appeals assigned to a panel of two justices. Following the supreme court rules, a writ of habeas corpus appealing a criminal case must be filed within two years from the verdict’s date. Other petitions for a writ of habeas corpus must be filed within a year.

The panel considers the petition and may dismiss it without prejudice, but the moving party still can file a new petition. Petitions dismissed with prejudice means that the verdict of the trial court will hold. If the petition for appeal is not dismissed, an oral argument ensues before a panel of three justices. The petitioner’s party is usually notified of the hearing via email three weeks earlier to the date that the panel schedules the oral argument. During this hearing, the petitioner’s party may present an oral argument for about ten minutes to the panel. The other party does not present an argument but may attend if they wish to.

In some cases, the argument is presented to the Chief Staff Attorney, who briefs the justices. The court organizes panel sessions for hearings on oral arguments six times in a year. If the panel grants the petition for appeal, a hearing is set between both the appellant and appellee parties. At the hearing, the parties are to argue their cases before all justices of the Supreme Court.

There can also be a transfer of jurisdiction from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. This occurs when a case is of public interest and requires a judicial review by the Supreme Court. Also, when the Court of Appeals has too many dockets, the Supreme Court may take over some cases for a swift administration of justice.

The Supreme Court of Virginia sits in week-long sessions, and the sessions occur six weeks apart between September to June. During the sessions, the court hears the cases within its original jurisdiction and appeals with approved petitions. Attorneys of the parties involved present their oral arguments, and the justices meet to deliberate on them. The public may access audio records of oral arguments heard at the Supreme Court on the court’s oral arguments webpage. The court also maintains a document that contains a docket list of cases heard in a session. Information on cases is also available via the Appellate Case Management System. Users may search by the case type and details of the parties involved.

Usually, a Justice is charged with writing the case opinions which contain comments from the other justices during the deliberation. Generally, a majority of the justices must be in favor of the opinion before it is made public. Opinions are accessible to members of the general public on the last day of each court session. Interested persons can view opinions from previous cases on the Supreme Court of Virginia Opinions page.

There are seven justices in the Virginia Supreme Court judicial system, elected by both houses of the state’s General Assembly for a term of twelve years. For individuals to be eligible for justice positions, they must have resided in Virginia for at least five years, and they must also be a current member of the Virginia State Bar for a minimum of five years. State law mandates all justices that have clocked the age of seventy-three to retire.

The Chief Justice is voted in by the seven justices for a four-year term. While there is no specific law stating the number of terms a Chief Judge can use in the office, the justices have internally chosen a limit of two terms. The court may employ up to five retired justices as senior justices. The duties of these senior justices include hearing petitions for appeals and serving as a replacement of an active justice that has been recused from hearing a case. Senior justices serve a renewable one-year term.

The court’s administrative structure consists of the clerk who maintains administrative records such as the court’s decisions and records of the commonwealth’s attorneys. The executive secretary serves as the secretary to both the Judicial Council and Judicial Conference and supervises other administrative matters relating to public relations, legislative affairs, information technology, and human resources. Other administrative staff in the Supreme Court include the chief staff attorney and the court reporter.

Cases heard at the Supreme Court are matters of public affairs, and individuals can use the court’s calendar to view the dates the court will be in session. Interested persons can attend the court proceeding at the location:

Supreme Court of Virginia

P. O. Box 1315

100 North Ninth Street

Richmond, VA 23219–1315

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