Criminal Court Process for Southwest Virginia Regional Jail (2024)

Criminal Court Process for Scott County Virginia

Scott County Virginia Criminal Court System – Definitions

It might be helpful to define some words that will be used on this site, when explaining the Virginia Court System and how it works. The definitions on this site are for general information and not legal advice. It is always preferred to follow information given by your attorney or local authorities.

If you scroll down below this content, and the listing of the courts in this Virginia County, you will find a simple flowchart diagram and a video that will help you visualize the stages of the Criminal Court Process.

Arrest is when Virginia, county, or local police take a person into custody and start the legal process. The arrested person may or may not be immediately jailed.

In less serious crimes, the person may only be given a citation ordering that they appear in magistrate or Virginia county or city court on a certain date. In cases involving more serious crimes, the person is usually placed in the county or regional jail until an arraignment, or a judge decides the next step.

Booking is when the Virginia sheriff or local police gather information such as the detainee’s name, address and why the person is being arrested. Booking also includes fingerprinting, criminal history, investigation, and verification of identity. Bail for lower-level crimes may be set right after booking so the arrested can “bail or bond out” before being detained.

The prosecution, sometimes called “the government” or “the people” or “the state” is the side that presses the charges and seeks punishment for the offense. These are attorneys that work for the state of Virginia, county, or a city or town. The prosecuting attorney for the Virginia county or the district is called the Commonwealth’s Attorney. A U.S. Attorney prosecutes federal cases.

Jurisdiction is an important term in the court system that means whether a court has the obligation or duty or right to handle a case. For example, if you run a red light in your town or city, a magistrate court would likely have jurisdiction over your case, but the next town or city over would not have jurisdiction over your case. If you attempted to flee from police when they attempted to stop you after you ran the red light, it becomes a more serious crime, and the magistrate court might not have jurisdiction so you might be assigned to a higher-level court that has jurisdiction over the more serious crime.

Jurisdiction varies from state to state and sometimes county to county.

Arraignment is when a judge determines whether the charges are supported by the prosecution’s initial evidence and tells the arrested what they are charged with, and the person says whether they are guilty or not guilty. At this time, the person is called the defendant, and the opposing side is called the prosecution. If there is reason to believe that the arrested is guilty, the judge will set bail conditions or send the defendant to jail or release them ROR (release on recognizances). An arraignment is not a trial, and the defendant is entitled to a trial within a reasonable amount of time after the arraignment.

Bail is money paid that is held by the Virginia county, city or municipal court to make sure that the arrested does not flee the area before their trial. Bail amounts and other conditions are determined at the arraignment. Once the case is over, the bail money is returned to the defendant. If a person does not pay bail, they remain in the city, county or regionaljail until their trial.

Bail can be denied if the court feels that the arrested would be a danger to others if released. Sometimes the court decides that there is a good chance that the arrested will show up for trial and not flee so they are released on their own promise, or recognizance without having to pay bail.

A bond proceeding is the determination of how much bail is to be paid and usually happens at the same time as an arraignment. During bond proceedings, the defendant can have an attorney present but does not have the right to an attorney. A judge or court officer in the county, city, or municipal court sets bail. Judges in Virginia rely on a statewide bail schedule, which sets out a recommended range of bail amounts for different offenses. Judges can still exercise discretion in setting bail above or below the recommended range.

A judicial public bond or personal recognizance bond is a bond where someone representing the defendant signs paperwork promising to pay the money if the defendant does not show up to court. If the defendant does not show, the full amount will be due and the people who signed the paperwork will be responsible for paying the court. Sometimes the court decides that there is a good chance that the arrested will show up for trial and not flee so they are released on their own promise, or recognizance.

Cash percentage in lieu of bonds. If the bond order permits, the defendant pays a percentage of the amount to the court, which then holds the money until the case is over. The amount is returned if the defendant is acquitted or the case is dismissed, or it can be used toward paying any court fines incurred by the defendant.

Surety Bond is when defendant pays a percentage of the bond amount (usually 10%) to a professional bondsman or bail bond company licensed to do business in Virginia or the jurisdiction. The bondsman then signs the bond on behalf of the defendant. The defendant does not receive any of the money back. If the bondsman feels the defendant is a flight risk, they can refuse to give a bond or charge a higher fee. For example, a bondsman may determine a defendant is a flight risk if they are from a state other than Virginia.

A Property Bond is a bond in which the bond is pledged in land or home real estate (mobile homes are not accepted). Usually, the property must be in the local jurisdiction, and it must be worth at least the amount of the bond.

It is always important to have family involvement after being arrested. Not only can they make calls and communicate on your behalf (not all bond companies will accept collect calls), but family support will show the court that there are people who will make sure that the defendant makes it to court, not only for the defendant’s own good, but because they may have signed bond paperwork and responsible to pay if the defendant does not show in court. Chances of obtaining a bond from a bond company or clerk of court are better if family is involved.

(There have been phone scams where a bond company calls and informs a person that their family member has been arrested and they ask for financial information. A bondsman will not call asking for money without involvement of the arrested.)

A criminal defense attorney (also called lawyer or counsel) is hired or retained to represent the arrested as early as possible after the arrest.

If there is a chance that the case might go to trial and the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that the court provide an attorney. This is called indigent representation and a public defender or assigned attorney would represent the defendant in all proceedings. Indigent representation is only available misdemeanor and felony cases that could result in jail time, juvenile cases, and certain appeal cases.

The State of Virginia pays for and maintains public defenders’ offices throughout the state. To locate an indigent defense attorney, click on your region in the map at the following link

For less serious cases or civil cases, there are pro bono volunteers who volunteer legal services for free or for a small fee. They often will hold clinics to teach people how to represent themselves in court or expunge their record which means to legally erase or eliminate a criminal or arrest record from public view. This website offers help in locating legal aid.This link will take you to Pro Bono contacts in the State of Virginia.

Many courts will provide forms and help for people who want to represent themselves, called pro se. Here is a link for legal self-help in Virginia.

A district court can refer to the first level of the legal system, or a minor court. District courts are in the community. A district court can also refer to a U.S. Federal District Court that hears federal cases. There are three U.S. federal district courts in Virginia, with offices throughout the state. It is important that you check the address of the court you are to appear in rather than to ask someone because that person might give you directions to the wrong “district” court. Being late to court can land you in custody as well.

Pretrial proceeding is the process where both sides (prosecution and defense) gather information, interview witnesses, request records, videos etc. Pretrial proceedings also include communications with the judge assigned to the case and these appearances are either in person or by on-line conferencing. Some pretrial proceedings may not require a defendant’s appearance, allowing an attorney to appear in their place. The information that is gathered is called discovery and both sides must share the information that they have gathered. This information does not include conversations between the arrested and their attorney.

Most cases do not go to trial because both sides reach a plea deal, where both sides try to reach a reasonable punishment based on what was learned in the pretrial proceedings. A plea deal can only happen if the accused person admits they are guilty in exchange for a lighter punishment. The reason they must admit guilt is because it would not be fair to punish someone who claims they are not guilty. There are times in plea bargaining when the prosecution agrees to give a lighter sentence in exchange for information leading to the arrest of a more serious criminal related to the crime.

Trial is where both sides share their information in front of a judge or a judge and jury. After listening to all the evidence, the judge or jury decides the verdict which is whether the person is guilty or not guilty. If a court has only a judge hearing both sides, it is called a bench trial. If a jury is selected, it is called a jury trial. If the defendant is found not guilty, they are released. If they are found to be guilty, the next step is sentencing.

Sentencing is the punishment that the judge decides the person should get. This could be jail or prison time, fines, community service, probation, or a combination.

Appeal is asking for a higher court to hear the case again at an appellate court. If the accused person thinks something went wrong at trial or has new information that was not available during the trial or that the sentence is too harsh, the defense attorney can ask for an appeal. It is not unusual for an appeal when there is a long jail sentence, but an appeal can be denied if the appellate court feels that the original trial or sentencing was fair.

Virginia Misdemeanor vs Felony

In Virginia, misdemeanors are divided into 4 classes.Examples of misdemeanors are trespassing, simple assault, petty theft and shoplifting.

  • Class 1 is the most serious and punishable by up to one year and/or a fine up to $2500.
  • Class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to $1000.
  • Class 3 misdemeanor holds no jail time and a fine of up to $500.
  • Class 4 carries a fine of up to $250.

A felony crime is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor and are divided into different classes which are general guidelines and are based on the crime, prior criminal history and other factors. Examples of felony crimes are murder, rape, theft, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, kidnapping and identity theft.

In Virginia, felonies are divided into 6 classes.

  • Class 1 is the most serious and is punishable by life in prison without parole and up to $100,000 fine.
  • Class 2 is punishable by 20 years to life in prison and up to $100,000 fine.
  • Class 3 is punishable by 5-20 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.
  • Class 4 is punishable by 2-10 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.
  • Class 5 is punishable by 1-10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $2500.
  • Class 6 felonies are punishable by either 1-5 years in prison or jail up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2500.

TheClerk of Court is an elected official whose responsibilities for Criminal Court’s administrative issues include receiving criminal warrants, receiving bail, creating the trial schedule, receiving fees, fines and maintaining court records.

A warrant is used to get someone to appear in court or to law enforcement. There must be good reason to believe that the person is involved in a crime. The warrant gives authority to arrest the person and search for evidence for the investigation of the crime.

A criminal summons is issued to request that a person appear in court at a particular time and date. It does not involve an arrest. A traffic ticket, summary citation or lesser misdemeanor could be considered a summons if you are given a court date.

A summary citation, commonly referred to as a ticket, is a criminal summons by a law enforcement officer either in person or via mail accusing the defendant of a minor offense, stating potential fine, listing the court having jurisdiction and instructions for addressing the issue. Defendants may or may not be required to appear in court or handle the matter by entering a plea via mail.

Fines are usually paid to the District Court or clerk of court and payment methods can be found on the District Court or Virginia county Clerk of Court website. If you do not pay your fine on time, you can lose your driver’s license, must pay additional fees or even have a warrant for your arrest. It is important to read the instructions on the ticket issued by the police officer or court at the time of your arrest. For a parking ticket or summary citation, the fine amount and how to send payment should be on the ticket.

Virginia Criminal Court System - How it Works

In Virginia, there are 32 regions called “districts” and within each district, and for criminal matters there is a circuit court, a district court, a juvenile court and a court of appeals. Because there are 95 counties in Virginia, each of the districts has more than one county a defendant might need to be seen in another county where the courthouses are located.

In Virginia, there is also a Supreme Court and Magistrate Courts.

Magistrate courts are the courts where the police are most likely to take the arrested. Magistrate courts operate day and night and handle bail hearings. Magistrate court judges can sign arrest and search warrants, summonses and emergency protective and custody orders.

Virginia General District Courts handle all misdemeanors and offenses that are violations of ordinances, traffic laws and laws of the county or city where the court is located. The general district court also conducts preliminary hearings for felony cases to determine whether the case should proceed to a grand jury hearing in circuit court.

Virginia Circuit Court conducts all jury trials and appeals from district courts. If a case is appealed from the district court, the case is heard as if it was the first time.

Virginia Juvenile District Courts handle juvenile matters for individuals under the age of 18. The following link will take you to the juvenile court website for your county.

Specialty Courts serve people who would benefit from alcohol, drug and other rehabilitative services. The State of Virginia has specialty court programs for behavioral health, drug court and Veterans treatment. Click on the links to find out more about each specialty program:

Behavioral Health
Drug Court
Veterans treatment

The Court of Appeals hears criminal appeal cases primarily from circuit court.

The Virginia Supreme Court is like our United States’ Supreme Court because it has a panel of judges that rule on matters that have to do with someone’s constitutional rights or policies and laws. The Virginia State Supreme Court deals with the state constitution or laws or policies. Sometimes the Supreme Court will hear criminal cases on appeal when there is a question on the state laws or procedures that lead to the appeal.

The criminal cases are usually referred from the district courts of appeal.


Federal Court deals with crimes involving violations of United States laws. Federal crimes include federal drug trafficking, federal tax evasion and fraud that crossed state lines and include crimes that occur on federal property as post offices or federal buildings.

Cases involving crimes that involve the FBI or DEA or Immigration agencies are federal crimes. Terrorism is a federal crime.

There are some differences in the Federal court system as compared to the Virginia state court system. For example, the attorneys who work for the courts are called United States Attorneys and Federal judges are called District Court Judges (not to be confused by local state district courts).

Federal Magistrate Judges hear the case early on, but they do not decide on the cases at a trial like the Federal District Court Judges. In a federal case, a grand jury is used for indictments.

There are three U.S. Federal Judicial Districts in Virginia.

Criminal Court Process for Southwest Virginia Regional Jail (2024)


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