It is always less stressful to beat a reckless driving charge in General District Court (GDC), rather than need to appeal a verdict of the GDC to the Circuit Court. Appealing a case will often cost you more: there will be additional fees required by your attorney if you hire one and higher court costs in the Circuit Court. Still, there will be situations where I counsel my client to appeal the outcome of the General District Court and exercise his or her right to a new or “de novo” trial in Circuit Court. In Virginia, a defendant has 10 calendar days to note an appeal of the GDC verdict to receive a new trial in Circuit Court.
Sometimes I find that the penalty imposed by a judge in the GDC is harsher than normal and appealing to Circuit Court makes sense. Or even if we get a great result in GDC, we may appeal because there may be a chance of a better outcome in Circuit Court. Perhaps my client can get less jail time or a shorter duration on a suspended license in the Circuit Court. Other times my client may have a shot of avoiding a reckless driving conviction altogether if we face the right judge or prosecutor in Circuit Court. The issue becomes whether or not is it worth our time and effort to try for a better result. It is often low-risk to appeal a case to Circuit Court because a person can withdraw his appeal later if he doesn’t want to roll the dice with a new judge in Circuit Court.
Other than additional expenses, because we can withdraw an appeal and revert to the GDC court outcome, the risks can be quite low. If a GDC judge ordered jail time, he may require bond of some sort for a person to perfect his appeal. If you don’t have that money, you’ll need to pay a bail bondsman (usually around 10% of the secured bond amount). Often times, GDC judges won’t require a secured bond though for a person to perfect his appeal.
Here’s why appealing a reckless driving conviction in GDC can be advantageous: At the General District Court level of many cities, prosecutors (Commonwealth Attorneys) are not usually assigned to reckless driving cases. But on appeal, prosecutors are often assigned by default. This creates an atmosphere where you may get a better result in the Circuit Court. Prosecutors may be more lenient than a GDC judge and may offer a plea agreement, whereas there may not have been anyone to negotiate with in lower court. The availability of a prosecutor may mean that we can get a plea bargain worked out.
If we are unable to reach an agreement that my client is happy with, my client can either withdraw his appeal or have the new judge in Circuit Court decide the case. Here there is risk: if the case is tried in Circuit Court, the judge may impose a harsher penalty than what happened in the GDC, since he or she technically doesn’t care what happened in GDC. Therefore, it is important to speak with an attorney about the potential risks before “rolling the dice” in Circuit Court.