Types and Levels of Courts
Within each state’s system of courts, different jurisdictions and levels of power are granted. It’s important to understand how each level of court operates and relates to the others, especially when you’re involved in a case that may be continued in the appeals process in the future. Here, we’ll discuss the differences between local jurisdiction courts and appellate courts.
The Three-Tier System
Generally, every state’s court system operates on at least three different levels, regardless of what they are called or the names given to each specific court. These levels are trial courts, intermediate appellate courts and high appellate courts.
Trial courts are usually considered limited and general jurisdiction courts, and may include municipal, county, city or town courts. General jurisdiction courts may also include superior courts, circuit and district courts or specific types of courts such as the local small claims or family court.
Basically, these courts have limited jurisdiction over only specific types of cases that fall under their area. However, certain general jurisdiction courts may hear appeals from lower limited jurisdiction courts. One such example is that a superior court, which exercises general jurisdiction, may hear appeals from the county court, which exercises limited jurisdiction.
Intermediate appellate courts may hear appeals from the lower trial courts as well as specific types of cases. These courts can include the state’s court of appeals or a specific court such as tax court. Each state deems which courts are at this level, and which cases or appeals they can hear.
High appellate courts are also considered to be the “court of last resort,” and are able to hear appeals from all previous levels of courts. Often, the high appellate court in a state is the local Supreme Court, though should not be confused with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Importance of Appellate Court Decisions
Appellate courts, both intermediate and high, are charged with hearing appeals and determining whether the original judgment in a case was just and appropriate. These courts may overturn previous rulings, and the high appellate may even issue opinions that are referenced in similar future cases.
Appellate courts are largely responsible for interpreting the applicable laws in a case, and these interpretations may support a variety of views. Appeals are typically filed in cases where a defendant feels he or she was wrongly convicted, whether it is due to error by the court, jurisdictional error, or questions about the constitutionality of a decision.
Rules of the Court
Each state court operates on its own set of rules, which may even differ between levels and jurisdictions. If you are filing a case in one of your local courts, ensure you retain the appropriate legal help in order to protect your interest and proceed appropriately. Many cases can be thrown out simply because proper court procedure is not followed, or because the case is filed in the incorrect court.