Unlike most other United States, West Virginia has only one court of appeals, which is the Supreme Court of Appeals. It is the highest court in the state and the court of last resort for many cases. Supreme Court of Appeals justices have extraordinary writ powers in regard to habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, and certiorari. Not only does this court hear appeals from the lower courts, but it also has complete supervisory responsibility for the entire justice system and interprets the laws of the state Constitution.
The Supreme Court of Appeals has five justices which hear appeals from Circuit Courts, Magistrate Courts, and administrative agencies. This court can hear appeals directly from Family Court if all parties agree they do not want to appeal to Circuit Courts instead.
West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals justices are elected into office in non-partisan elections to twelve-year terms. To qualify to sit on the Supreme Court of Appeals, a justice must first practice law for ten years. One Chief Justice is chosen among the group to serve a one-year term in that role. In the event of a vacancy, the Governor appoints a justice to fill the seat until the next election.
Cases in the Supreme Court of Appeals are not trials and do not use juries. Instead, the justices review the original case transcripts, read briefs prepared by each side, and hear oral arguments to determine if the law was violated in the original case. The general public can attend oral arguments or watch them via webcast. Once they have reviewed a case, the justices form a decision called an “opinion.” These opinions are published for review on the judiciary website.
The Supreme Court of Appeals holds two sessions per year. The first one goes from January until June and the second one runs from September to November.