West Virginia courts’ hierarchy comprises of the state Supreme Court at the top of the pyramid followed by general jurisdiction tribunals which are known as circuit courts, domestic relations tribunals and local courts at the county and municipal levels which have limited jurisdiction. Here is a look at how these courts handle various criminal and civil matters.
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia: This is the apex judicial entity in the state, which in the absence of a Court of Appeals, works as the ultimate appellate authority in West Virginia. Comprising of a bench of 5 justices, the Supreme Court has discretionary and appellate jurisdiction in a broad range of criminal and non criminal matters. This means that the apex tribunal can not only accept appeals and commute sentences issued from lower tribunals but also it can decide the matters that will be heard and choose not to hear certain cases.
Located at Charleston , appeals against a decision given by the Supreme Court can only be heard by the United States Supreme Court. The justices are elected to 12 years terms and they sit in panels of 3 or en banc to hear the appeals from circuit courts as well as administrative entities like worker’s compensation authority. The apex court is also in charge of interpreting state and federal laws and enforcing the rules of practice in lower tribunals.
Circuit Courts. As stated above, these tribunals have general jurisdiction hence they handle the maximum number of cases taken to the judiciary.There are 31 circuit courts in West Virginia and these have jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. In fact, the trial for most criminal cases is conducted in these tribunals. These cases are heard by 72 judges who serve these courts. In terms of civil cases, circuit courts have jurisdiction in all matters where the compensation amount exceeds $300.
Family Courts: These tribunals have limited jurisdiction and they can only handle matters pertaining to domestic relations, child support and custody ad juvenile welfare cases. There are 45 judges serving the 27 family courts across the judicial circuits of WV.
County/ magistrate’s courts: These tribunals performa range of preliminary tasks in criminal matters such as the issue of WV active warrants. It is the magistrate who has the authority to issue various legal provisions including search orders, arrest warrants, summons, etc. Every county in the state has a magistrate’s court and these are served by a total of 158 magistrates.
These courts hear criminal matters that pertain to misdemeanors, conduct preliminary examination for felonies and share civil jurisdiction with circuit courts on matters where the compensation amount does not exceed$5000. Verdicts from the magistrate’s courts can be appealed against in the circuit courts.
Municipal Courts:These are also tribunals of limited jurisdiction as they can only handle matters pertaining to civic, traffic and municipal ordinance violations. These are not courts of records which means that dockets are not maintained for the cases heard by these tribunals. Cases from municipal courts are appealed in the magistrate’s and circuit courts.
Apart from these, federal entities are also included in the state’s judicial mix. The United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia and the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia are the two federal judicial entities operating in the state. The District Court for the Northern District convenes at 4 locations within the state.