What is the Difference Between General District and Circuit Court? By Josh Silverman on July 21, 2023

Navigating the legal system can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to understanding the differences between various courts. In Virginia, two of the most commonly encountered courts are the General District Court and the Circuit Court. Despite their similarities, these courts serve distinct purposes, and understanding their differences is crucial for any legal matter. Filing claims in General District Court is very efficient and in many automobile accident cases, it is ideal.  However, for larger cases, circuit court provides the ability to sue for more than $50,000 and to obtain discovery that could be crucial to the outcome of your case.  

  1. Jurisdiction: The General District Court has limited jurisdiction, handling civil cases with claims up to $50,000 for injuries in automobile accidents and various misdemeanor cases, including traffic violations. It also deals with preliminary hearings for felony cases. Conversely, the Circuit Court is a higher court with broader jurisdiction, hearing major civil cases with no monetary limits, felony criminal cases, and appeals from the General District Court.

  2. Complexity of Cases: The General District Court usually deals with straightforward cases, while the Circuit Court handles more complex and serious legal matters.  In General District court the only way to obtain discovery is through subpoenas while in Circuit court you can take depositions and submit interrogatories and requests for production of documents.  Civil cases involving substantial injuries, contentious divorces, and intricate business disputes typically find their way to the Circuit Court.

  3. Jury Trials: In Virginia, the right to a jury trial is available in Circuit Court for both civil and criminal cases. However, in the General District Court, civil cases are decided by judges.

  4. Appeals Process: Decisions made in the General District Court can be appealed to the Circuit Court, where a new trial is held. Conversely, Circuit Court decisions may be appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals .

In summary, the General District Court and the Circuit Court in Virginia serve different purposes and handle cases of varying complexity. While the former deals with smaller civil claims and misdemeanor cases, the latter takes on more significant civil disputes and felony cases. The decision whether to file in General District Court or Circuit Court is one of the most important decisions to be made in our cases.  

Josh Silverman

Silverman Law Firm LC

At the Silverman Law Firm LC in Richmond, VA, attorney Josh Silverman and his team represent victims of personal injuries and medical malpractice. Josh Silverman has been recognized as a "Virginia Super Lawyer" every year since 2013 and was selected as a 2015 Top Rated Lawyer in Healthcare Law based on his AV Peer Review Rating in Martindale-Hubbell©.

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