Criminal Court Process

Read to find out about the order and details of each step of the court process. Contact the Commonwealth's Attorney office for more information at 757-727-6442.


This is the first step in the Criminal Justice process following a defendant´s arrest. This is a hearing in which the defendant appears before the General District Court Judge and is formally advised of the charges brought against him or her, and a date for a preliminary hearing is set.


A subpoena is a court order directing you to be present in court at a particular time and place.

Preliminary Hearing

This hearing is held in either the General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and is the first court appearance for the defendant. The preliminary hearing is not a trial. Its purpose is not to determine whether the defendant is in fact guilty or innocent but to determine whether it is reasonable to believe that the defendant committed a felony. If the judge determines that the evidence is sufficient, he will certify the case to the grand jury.

Grand Jury

A Grand Jury consists of seven citizens who meet the first Monday of each month. These citizens listen to evidence put on by a police officer who covers the facts of the case. The Grand Jury then determines if the evidence is sufficient to indict* the defendant. The case will then be set for trial in the Circuit Court.

*Indict - to charge with a specific crime

Circuit Court

The defendant stands trial and his guilt or innocence is determined by the judge or by a jury. At this time, all witnesses will be sworn and in most cases will be asked to remain outside the courtroom during the trial. If the defendant is found guilty, he may be sentenced at the conclusion of this court hearing or at a later date if a pre-sentence report is requested.

Pre-Sentence Report

This report is completed by a probation and parole officer and consists of a background of the defendant. The pre-sentence report normally takes four to six weeks to complete. Upon hearing this report, the judge will impose the sentence.