Fax: (434) 970-3387
This page is designed to provide information for persons charged with criminal and/or traffic charges in Charlottesville General District Court.
Fax: (434) 970-3387
Certain civil, traffic, and criminal cases are held in Charlottesville General District Court. This court is located on 606 E. Market in the historic court square area in downtown Charlottesville.
In Charlottesville General District Court most of the traffic cases are heard on Tuesday and Thursday morning. In some circumstances your case may be set for a different day. This may occur for various reasons, one of which may be your officer's court schedule.
Cases that are set for a first appearance (see below) are normally scheduled for 10:00AM. I recommend to check your summons or the arrest warrant to be sure of your court date. You can also look up your case information at the Virginia Court System Website here (click on general district court case information).
If your case involves a traffic infraction the clerks will grant an automatic continuance in your case by request presuming it is your first request. For cases involving criminal misdemeanors continuances are discretionary with the court. Please see the Virginia Judicial System website here or contact the clerk's office for the most accurate information for your case.
1.4. Types of Cases
Both traffic/criminal and civil matters are heard in the Charlottesville General District Court. While the court does hear criminal matters, the judge does not try felony criminal cases. However, many felony cases will begin in the General District Court, where a preliminary hearing is held. A preliminary hearing is not a trial but is 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 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.
The Charlottesville General District Court has jurisdiction over offenses that were committed within the City of Charlottesville. Pursuant to § 19.2-249 the court has jurisdiction to try offenses that were committed within 300 yards of the boundary of the City of Charlottesville.
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 Charlottesville 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.
If you have been charged with reckless driving in Charlottesville, Virginia please contact me to discuss your case. I am located in Charlottesville and regularly represent clients charged with reckless driving in the Charlottesville General District Court.
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.
The first step when trying to determine how to best handle your reckless driving case is to look to see which type of reckless driving charge you are facing.
Many drivers charged with reckless driving by speed in Charlottesville were stopped while traveling on the Route 250 Bypass near the McIntire Park where the speed limit drops from 45 to 35. Other very common areas to be stopped are on Locust, Elliot Ave, and Rugby Rd.
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 Charlottesville 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.
It is important to understand that these maximum penalties listed above, regarding jail time and fines are rarely ever applied. In most cases the judge in Charlottesville will assess a $6 fine for every mph over the speed limit if your case is based on speed. However, that policy does change when exceeding twice the speed limit. A license suspension is a realistic possibility if the driver was speeding more than twice the speed limit.
Jail time is also not a normal punishment of reckless driving in Charlottesville. Again, driver's exceeding twice the speed limit 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 the City of Charlottesville. While this is typically not an issue, it is always important to look at your summons to make sure you were actually in the City of Charlottesville. 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.
2) Public Road
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.
3) The driver must have actually been driving
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.
4) Exceeding the Speed Limit
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.
5) Calibration Issues
There are a number of issues relating to calibrations both regarding the driver and the officer.
The Officer's Calibration
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.
The Driver's Speedometer Calibration
In Charlottesville, 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 Charlottesville. 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.
6) Accident cases
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.
7) Ineffective Reckless Driving Defenses in Charlottesville
Generally speaking Judge Sneathern does 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) You needed to use the restroom
8) If none of these defenses apply to you, then please call so that we can discuss your case. There are numerous specific issues that arise that can serve as effective defenses in these cases.
You should first look to your summons to determine what the purpose of your court date is. The summons is the piece of paper the officer have you indicating that you need to appear at the Charlottesville General District Court at a certain time and date. In most reckless driving cases the first court date is your trial date, but this is not always the case. In cases involving more serious accidents or where you were far exceeding the speed limit your case may be set for a first appearance
The purpose of the first appearance is so that the court can advise you of your right to counsel and to continue the case to the trial date. The court is required to do this in cases where there is a realistic possibility of jail time. In Charlottesville these hearings are typically held at 10AM.
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 Charlottesville General District Court is Judge Sneathern. The Commonwealth's Attorney usually does not get involved in reckless driving cases unless the case involves a serious accident.
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 Charlottesville 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.