Your first trial for a Virginia reckless driving ticket happens in the General District Court (assuming you’re an adult).
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your case, you have the absolute right to appeal it to the Circuit Court. This is called a “de novo” appeal, which means everything starts all over. You get a brand new trial with a different judge.
It’s a powerful right!
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Filing your appeal
The most important thing to remember about appealing your case: you MUST file the appeal within 10 calendar days after trial. Note: this deadline is not based on business days. The appeal deadline is based on calendar days, so weekends are included!
If you wait more than 10 calendar days, you’re out of luck. No more appeal. It’s a powerful tool, but you have to act fast.
Actually filing the appeal requires a single piece of paper in most courts. Simply tell the General District Court clerk that you want to appeal, and they’ll give you a Notice of Appeal form. They’ll usually fill out the main data for you and have you sign it. That’s it.
The Notice of Appeal form will say that you have to appear in Circuit Court on a certain date to either have your new trial or pick a trial date. Whichever it says, be there! If you don’t appear as scheduled, you will probably be charged with failure to appear, another misdemeanor. Even if you don’t get jail time for your reckless driving charge, you could go to jail for failing to appear in Circuit Court.
Your appeal trial
The appeal trial happens the same way as the original trial did. The officer testifies, you can ask questions, you can testify, etc.
You also have the right to an attorney, even if you’re not facing jail time. If you didn’t hire an attorney the first time around, it might make sense to hire someone for the appeal to try to get a better result.
The appeal trial has two main differences from the original trial:
- You have the right to a jury trial. But be careful when demanding a jury, since if you’re convicted you’ll have to pay for it. In some courts, that costs around $1,000.
- The Commonwealth’s Attorney will almost certainly be involved. Even in the areas I handle where the prosecutor doesn’t handle reckless driving cases, they do get involved on appeals. The prosecutor normally gets involved at this level mainly because there are fewer appeals, so they have the manpower to handle it.
As we talked about before, this can be good or bad, depending upon your case. Sometimes if a case doesn’t go well in General District Court, the Commonwealth’s Attorney will negotiate a reduced plea agreement in Circuit Court.
Withdrawing your appeal
What happens if you appeal your case and then change your mind?
No problem. You can withdraw the appeal!
Virginia lets you withdraw the appeal any time before your new trial begins. If you decide to withdraw before your Circuit Court appearance date, you can easily do that at the clerk’s office. If you wait until you appear in Circuit Court, you can tell the judge that you want to withdraw when he asks for a plea.
When you withdraw an appeal, the General District Court result becomes effective. That means the outcome will be put on your driving record, and you have to do whatever the punishment was. If the judge imposed jail time, you would be taken into custody right when you withdraw the appeal.
The only thing that can change with the withdrawn appeal is that you might pay more in court costs. If you withdraw within the first 10 days after trial, you only pay the original court costs. However, if you wait more than 10 days, the Circuit Court gets the case file. Once they have the file, you have to pay their court costs as well. This can add about another $100 to your total bill.