General Information About the Circuit Court
The Circuit Courts are trial courts which have jurisdiction over civil claims, criminal cases, equity suits and appeals. Newport News is the 7th of 31 judicial circuits in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In terms of the number of judges allotted to each circuit in the Commonwealth, at 5, Newport News is tied with 4 other circuits for 7th place.
A civil claim is generally a claim in which a person "claims" another person or organization harmed him or her in some way such that monetary compensation is justified. Any civil claims involving $4500 or less are heard in the General District Court, and civil claims involving over $4,500 but not exceeding $25,000 may be heard in either the General District Court or the Circuit Court; however, civil claims involving over $25,000 may only be heard by the Circuit Court. The most often mentioned civil claim is a claim for compensation as the result of someone's negligence in causing an automobile accident, but there are many more civil claims heard in the Circuit Courts, including, but certainly not limited to breach of contract, landlord-tenant, product liability, slander, and libel.
In criminal cases, the Circuit Court hears all felonies and misdemeanors originating from a grand jury indictment. In addition, the Circuit Court hears all misdemeanors appealed from the General District Court. A felony is a crime which, among other sanctions, could result in a sentence to the state penitentiary for one year or more, and a misdemeanor is a crime which, among other sanctions, could result in a sentence to jail of not more than 12 months.
Equity suits are cases which seek judgment for something other than money. The most common of these are divorces, adoptions, boundary line disputes and estate matters.
The Circuit Court also hears appeals from the General District Court (Civil, Traffic and Criminal) and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. These cases are heard de novo, meaning there is not a review of the former trial, but a new trial.