American Flag With a Judge's GavelEvery state in the nation, including Virginia, has its own state court system and is part of the federal court system. Below, we will discuss the different courts in the federal court system, what kind of criminal cases are heard in federal court, and why you need an experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyer if you’re charged with a federal crime.

Federal Courts in Virginia

The federal court system includes the United States Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district (or trial) courts.

District Courts

Federal trials are heard in United States district courts. Currently, there are 94 federal judicial districts, including two in Virginia. The U.S. Attorney for the district represents the government and a private attorney or public defender represents criminal defendants before and during a trial.

Virginia has two district court districts, including:

  • The Eastern District of Virginia. The Eastern District of Virginia has four locations. The courthouses are located in Richmond, Alexandria, Newport News, and Norfolk.
  • The Western District of Virginia. The Western District of Virginia has seven locations. These courthouses are located in Abingdon, Big State Gap, Charlottesville, Danville, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, and Roanoke.

Your criminal case will be assigned to a specific court that will hear all pre-trial motions and decide your case.

United States Court of Appeals

There are 13 United States Courts of Appeal. The 94 federal judicial districts are divided into regional circuits, and each regional circuit has its own Court of Appeal.

Virginia is part of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Challenges to district court decisions made by the Eastern District of Virginia or the Western District of Virginia may be heard in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Richmond, Virginia. As stated above, this circuit court includes the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia, and it also includes the District of Maryland, the Eastern District of North Carolina, the Middle District of North Carolina, the Western District of North Carolina, the District of South Carolina, the Northern District of West Virginia, and the Southern District of West Virginia.

The Fourth Circuit may have up to 15 active judges at any time. However, each case is typically heard by a panel of three judges who are randomly assigned to the case.

United States Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is located in Washington D.C. and is the court of last resort for all federal cases, including federal criminal cases originally heard in Virginia. The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and a number of associate justices set by the United States Congress. Currently, there are nine justices on the Supreme Court and a quorum of at least six justices is required to decide a case.

In a typical year, the Supreme Court receives 7,000 to 8,000 petitions for writs of certiorari or requests for appeals. However, the Court typically only grants about 80 such requests.

Criminal Cases Heard in VA Federal Courts

Federal courts do not have jurisdiction to hear cases involving Virginia state laws. Many criminal laws are state laws and, therefore, many criminal cases are heard in Virginia state courts.

However, some crimes are federal crimes. If you are accused of violating a federal statute, then your case may be heard in the Eastern or Western District of Virginia. Some examples of federal crimes include:

This list is not all-inclusive, and you should speak with an experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyer about the specific charges you face. In some cases, you may be charged with both state and federal crimes.

Don’t Delay Contacting a Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer

A federal conviction may lead to significant jail time, fines, and other consequences. Accordingly, it is essential to contact an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer in Virginia as soon as possible. Our Fairfax criminal defense law firm is here to help you. Contact us today to make sure that all of your rights are protected at each stage of your case.