501 E. Jefferson Street, Suite 138
Charlottesville, VA 22902-5110
Phone: (434) 972-4007
Fax: (434) 972-4092
This page is designed to provide information for persons charged with criminal and/or traffic charges in Albemarle General District Court.
If you were issued a summons or served a warrant for reckless driving, a DUI, or other misdemeanor crime in Albemarle County your summons will direct you to appear at the Albemarle County General District Court. (Excluding Juvenile and Domestic Cases).
501 E. Jefferson Street, Suite 138
Charlottesville, VA 22902-5110
Phone: (434) 972-4007
Fax: (434) 972-4092
Certain civil, traffic, and criminal cases are held in Albemarle General District Court. This court is located on 501 E Jefferson St #138 in the historic court square area in downtown Charlottesville. The Albemarle Circuit Court is connected to the general district court building. The general district court clerk's office and general district court are located in the first floor of the building. The clerk's office is located at the end of the hall as you walk into the building from the main entrance. The courtroom is located immediately to the right upon walking through the front entrance.
Most traffic cases are heard on Monday and Friday morning at 9:30 AM and 10:30 AM, and Tuesday afternoons at 1:00 PM and 2:30 PM. Your case may be
set for a different time than the normal schedule depending on numerous circumstances, including the officer's schedule.
Criminal and traffic misdemeanor first appearances are scheduled for 9:00 AM on Monday and Fridays, and occasionally Wednesday at 10AM. Criminal misdemeanor cases are set for 9:30 and 10:30 on Tuesday mornings. Be sure to check your summons or arrest warrant for the most accurate information regarding your court date. You can look up your case at the Virginia Court System Website here (click on general district court case information).
For cases involving traffic infractions the clerk will grant a 1st continuance to the officer's next court date. In criminal misdemeanor cases continuances are discretionary with the Judge. Please see the Virginia Judicial System website here or contact the clerk's office for the most accurate information for your case.
The Albemarle General District Court hears both criminal/traffic and civil matters. The judge in the general district court does not try felony cases, but most felony cases will have a preliminary hearing in front of the general district court judge. Preliminary hearings are not trials, but rather are a determination as to whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant did commit the crime. If the judge finds the Commonwealth has established probable cause the case will be sent to the grand jury.
Misdemeanor trials are held in general district court. Misdemeanor cases involve crimes that are punishable by up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines. Some traffic cases such as DUI, reckless driving, and driving with a suspended license involve criminal charges. Most traffic cases heard are traffic infractions which are not crimes, but may result in fines and demerit points assessed against the driver's driving record.
The court has jurisdiction to hear civil suits involving claims up to $25,000 (with exceptions).
Parking is available at the Market St. parking garage. There is also parking available along the streets near the courthouse.
It is recommended to appear at court at least 15 minutes early. It is not uncommon for your case to be called prior to the time stated on your summons or arrest warrant. Failure to attend your court date may result in a warrant issued for your arrest.
Albemarle General District Court has jurisdiction over offenses that were committed within the county of Albemarle. Pursuant to § 19.2-249 the court has jurisdiction to try offenses that were committed within 300 yards of the boundary of Albemarle County.
In misdemeanor cases either a warrant or summons is issued. Your summons or arrest warrant will indicate the time of your first court appearance. All warrants or summons must state with reasonable certainty the offense for which you have been charged and it must give notice of the nature and character of the offense. The summons or warrant must include the name of the defendant or describe him with reasonable certainty.
The summons will include your name (the accused in the case), a description of the offense, a court date, and will be signed by the accused. This signature indicates a promise to appear at the specified time and place listed on the summons. In most misdemeanor cases the officer is supposed to release the defendant with a summons instead of an arrest warrant. There are numerous exceptions to this requirement, which can be found in Code § 19.2-74 or 19.2-82.
If you appear in court without an attorney for your arraignment (first appearance) and you have been charged with a crime for which you may receive jail time the court will give you the opportunity to retain counsel. If you unable to retain counsel and qualify for court appointed counsel, the judge will appoint an attorney for you. In Albemarle there is a public defender's office that takes the majority of court appointed cases. In order to qualify for court appointed counsel you will be required to complete a written financial statement under oath. It is also possible to waive your right to counsel, but such a waiver must be done so intelligently and voluntarily.
Traffic infractions convictions result in fines, which cannot exceed $250. However, there are some exceptions for infractions which are considered more serious. These infractions may result in a fine up to $500. If you fail to appear for your court date, and the offense is one where the judge will try the case in your absence, a $35 fee will be added.
Most traffic infractions are pre-payable with the court. However, criminal traffic charges such as reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, or driving without being licensed to drive are not pre-payable by statute.
It is important to know which type of reckless driving charge you are facing. Many drivers with reckless driving tickets in Albemarle county were stopped while traveling on Route 64 for reckless driving based on speed (46.2-862). One very common area to be stopped is at the 103 mile marker on Route 64, where the speed limits drops from 65 to 70mph.
Another commonly charged reckless driving statute is 46.2-852. Officers will often cite drivers for this violation in traffic accident cases where the officer believes the driver was driving in a manner to endanger other drivers, pedestrians, or other property.
Reckless driving in Virginia does carry serious maximum penalties. It is a class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $2500 fine. DUI's and Assault and Battery charges are examples of class 1 misdemeanors. A suspended license is also a possible consequence of reckless driving. Additionally, drivers can expect insurance premium increases, possible employment issues, a permanent criminal record, and 6 demerit points on his driver's license.
However, it is important to understand the realistic consequences of a reckless driving ticket. The actual penalty a driver may receive will vary substantially depending on which court his/her case is held in, and the local judge's traffic policies.
Whether your case is in Albemarle or another court, some of the consequences will not vary. If convicted the driver will have a permanent criminal record, will receive 6 demerit points on his driver's license, will very likely receive an increase in insurance premiums, and drivers who drive for a living may realistically face termination.
However, the fine for reckless driving in Albemarle County rarely meets the maximum punishment for class 1 misdemeanors of $2500. Typically, the judge in Albemarle County, Judge Barkley, will assess a fine similar to a normal speeding ticket violation, $6 for every mph over the limit. However, that policy does change when exceeding 90 mph. A license suspension is typically not a consequence of reckless driving in Albemarle, but will become a realistic consequence if exceeding 90mph or if the driver is involved in a serious traffic accident where other drivers were injured.
Jail time is also not a normal punishment of reckless driving in Albemarle. Again, driver's exceeding 90 mph or involved in serious accidents will likely receive at least a suspended jail sentence, and in some cases an active jail sentence. Cases do vary depending on the specific facts of your case. To understand how this works, please contact me at 434-979-0308.
In all reckless driving cases, the officer has to prove a number of things in order for the driver to be convicted.
The driver must have actually been driving in Albemarle County. While this is typically not an issue, it is always important to look at your summons to make sure you were actually in Albemarle County. Cases that took place near the UVa area, where Albemarle and the City of Charlottesville have odd boundary lines can often cause issues regarding proper jurisdiction.
The driver must have actually been driving on a public road. Roadways not open to the public do not fall within the reckless driving statutes.
While this is rarely an issue in accident related reckless driving cases the officer is normally not present to see what occurred. After serious accidents, it is normal for the people involved to be flustered and upset about what occurred. Sometimes witnesses will confuse one person in the car for the driver when it was actually another person and the wrong person is charged. While rare this does occur.
In speeding cases the officer must show that the driver was exceeding a specific speed limit. Some clients who call my office believe that the officer must bring in proof of the speed limit where he was cited. The officer's testimony is usually sufficient for the judge; however, occasionally, officers will get confused about the speed limit in a certain area, where a new speed limit was recently introduced, or in areas where the speed limit changes at different times of the day.
There are a number of issues relating to calibrations both regarding the driver and the officer.
The officer will use tuning forks to make sure that the radar device he used to capture your speed is working properly. He is supposed to do this before and after his shift, and will almost certainly testify to that effect in court. But the tuning forks themselves have to be re-calibrated every 6 months. The officer does need to have documentation supporting this, although it is not something the officer actually shows the judge voluntarily. The officer only needs to show the court the tuning forks were calibrated properly if an issue arises indicating they may not be. It is important to ask the officer about the calibrations prior to your hearing. He should have a calibration certificate indicating that the tuning forks were calibrated within the proper time frame. There are a number of requirements the certificate must meet, as required by statute.
In Albemarle, if the driver is able to show that his speedometer was not calibrated properly the judge may agree to reduce his speed. But there are a number of requirements that must be met for this to work in Albemarle. The calibration must show that the actual speed of the vehicle was greater than the speed indicated on the speedometer. The driver must also be able to testify that he believed he was traveling at a speed consistent with the calibration error. Often drivers will tell the officer when they were pulled over that they did not know how fast they were going, which will undermine the driver's argument in court.
In accident cases the officer must show that the driver was driving in a manner or speed to endanger life, limb or property. Often in these cases the officer is not present to observe how the accident occurred, but will attempt to show the judge what happened based on the statements the driver made to the officer after the accident. These statements are admissible in court.
Generally speaking traffic court judges do not consider the following to be effective defenses:
1) You were driving an unfamiliar car, i.e. it was your parent's car or it was a rental car
2) Your speedometer was not working properly (aside from the calibration issue mentioned above)
3) You were traveling downhill
4) The weather was poor
5) You didn't know the area well or are from out of state
6) The ticket will cause issues with your current or future employment
7) You needed to use the restroom
First, it important to determine the purpose of your court date. The officer will have given you a piece of paper called a summons indicating that you need to appear at the Albemarle General District Court at a certain time and date. For traffic cases, most of the time this court date is your actual trial date.
If you were cited for speeding over 90mph or were involved in a serious accident the officer will often write an arraignment or first appearance date. The purpose of this court appearance is to advise you of your right to counsel. This is required in cases where there is a possibility of jail time and the Commonwealth's Attorney is not waiving jail time (as is often the case in reckless driving cases). In Albemarle County these hearings are held at 9AM.
At the first appearance the judge will ask if you will hire your own attorney, or if you would like to see if you qualify for court appointed counsel. Alternatively, you may waive your right to counsel. For more information on this process please contact me at 434-979-0308.
Reckless driving is not a pre-payable offense, and as a general rule you must appear in court for your case. This issue does get complicated and is something we would need to speak about. I will often appear in court on my client's behalf, but again this will vary depending on the specific issues in your case.
The judge in the Albemarle General District Court is Judge Barkley. The Commonwealth's Attorney usually does not get involved in reckless driving cases unless the case involves a serious accident or the speed is over 90mph.
When your case is called the judge will tell you what your charge is and then will ask what your plea to that charge is. You can tell the judge you are either: 1) pleading not guilty, 2) pleading guilty, 3) pleading no contest, or 4) you don't have to enter any plea at all (which operates as a not guilty plea). For how to plead in your specific case please contact me at 434-979-0308.
If you plead not guilty, the court will then hear evidence in your case. The judge will ask the officer what occurred. You will then have the opportunity to ask the officer questions. After the officer testifies you will then have the chance to tell the judge what happened if you would like, although you are not required to.
After the Judge hears all of the evidence he will make his ruling regarding guilt or innocence, and will also make his ruling regarding what punishment the driver will receive if found guilty.
The driver has 30 days by statute to pay any fines and court costs incurred as a result of a conviction. These costs are paid at the clerks' office in the General District Court, which is located right outside the courtroom. You may pay directly after court if you would like. Alternatively, you may ask the clerks about setting up a payment plan. For VA drivers if your license is suspended for 30 days or less the clerks will keep your license in their office. If suspended for longer than 30 days you will have to go down to the DMV to pick up your license. The court is not allowed to take an out of state driver's license, but may still suspend an out state driver's privilege to drive in VA. If you receive active jail time as a result of your conviction, the judge will normally allow you to delay reporting to jail about 3 weeks.
After the case is over you have 10 calendar days to file an appeal. You file this appeal in the General District Court. You may do so directly after your case is over by speaking with the clerks. You will fill out a form indicating you would like to appeal, and the clerk will give you a new court date in a new court, the Albemarle Circuit Court.
If you appeal your case to the Circuit Court it is important to understand that your first court date is not your trial date, it is a docket call date where you will set the actual trial date. At docket call you will have the option of choosing a jury trial or a bench trial. If you choose to have a jury trial you will have to pay the costs for the jury if convicted.
You are allowed to withdraw your appeal. It is not uncommon at docket call for drivers to withdraw their appeal. This will often involve paying additional court costs.
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