Types of Courts in the US

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The United States has two court systems: federal and state. The federal courts form the county’s judicial branch, and they operate under the authority of the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The state courts operate under the constitutions and laws of their respective states. Apart from the differences between the federal and state courts, there are four levels of institutions for adjudicating legal disputes.

Court Systems

The federal and state courts work with each other to the extent of fairly handling legal issues. However, they mostly work independent of each other, and each type of court has distinctive characteristics. Federal courts are for hearing cases that involve the constitutionality of a law, the laws and treaties of the U.S., disputes between two or more states or territories, ambassadors and public ministers, admiralty law and bankruptcy. State courts deal with most criminal, contract, probate, tort and family law cases. Thus, court systems do not have jurisdiction in any case. For instance, you cannot take a bankruptcy case to state court, since the US Constitution gives Congress sole authority to make uniform laws concerning this issue. Conversely, a federal court lacks jurisdiction in divorce, since this is a family law issue for which the federal government lacks authority.

Trial Court

Each court system has a collection of trial courts, which are the first places where legal cases are presented. For this reason, they are collectively called courts of first instance. Among these institutions are courts of general jurisdiction, which are authorized to hear any type of criminal or civil issue that is not exclusively committed to another court. Each state in the country has a trial court system, and they differ in naming. For instance, they are called “circuit courts” in Florida, while going by the term “superior courts” in California. At the federal level, these courts are referred to as the United States district courts; they consist of 94 courts in the federal judicial districts and three territorial courts. However, not all cases go to trial court. For instance, there are state trial courts of limited jurisdiction, which are restricted by subject matter. They include family courts, juvenile courts and probate courts. Moreover, Congress might send some federal cases to specialized courts that include the Alien Terrorist Removal Court, Court of International Trade and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

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Appellate Court

Appellate courts – also known as the appeals court or court of appeals in the US – comprise the second level of courts in the state and federal systems. A party takes a case to an appellate court if there is displeasure with the trial court’s decision. That’s why the appellate court is called the court of second instance. In the state court system, the appellate courts consist of at least one intermediate appellate court and a supreme court, with the latter functioning as the state’s highest appellate court. In the federal court system, the appellate courts are collectively known as the United States courts of appeals. Occasionally, Congress transfers appellate jurisdiction to specialized courts like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

Supreme Court

Supreme courts function as the final arbiters of law. In addition to being the highest appellate court, state supreme courts are the places of last resort. Similarly, the federal supreme court, which is officially known as the Supreme Court of the United States, is the court of last resort for the entire country. This is where cases involving state interpretation of the US Constitution or federal law can be appealed. However, it is up to the US Supreme Court to hear or dismiss such cases. Also, it serves as a court of original jurisdiction – essentially, a trial court – for cases that involve battling state governments or disagreements between the federal government and a state.

This article was written by Robert Tritter, an aspiring lawyer who hopes to help you understand the law better. He writes this on behalf of Garza Bail Bonds, your number one choice when looking for bail bonds. Click here today and see how they can help you! 

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