The Evolution of US courts
As US history evolved, the courthouse procedure became less simple. Because there were
more people, and hence more problem, there were more courts. For civil matters, there
were counterparts of the rural justices of the peace; for less serious criminal affairs, there
were police and magistrate’s courts; and for serious problems of law and order, there was
a more permanent higher court. As the nation grew more populous and more mature, so
too did the system of courts. By late 19
century, along with these courts, superior courts,
and various levels of appeals and supreme courts. Again
dual court system
evolved throughout America after the signing of the Declaration of Independence-at the
state level and at the federal level.
No two state courts are alike and that the names of the various courts vary widely
regardless of their functions. EX. Criminal cases courts are called courts of common
pleas in Ohio and Pennsylvania; in California, they are superior courts; in NY, they are
supreme courts, ect.
State Court Infrastructure
Despite that all state courts are different, there is a clear-cut structure within all the state
court systems. State judiciaries are divided into three, four, or sometimes five tiers, each
with separate functions and jurisdictions. The courts of last resort are at the uppermost
level. These are the appeals courts.
Immediately below the courts of last resort in more
than half the states are the intermediate appellate courts. Located primarily in the more
populous states, these courts have been structured to relieve the caseload burden on the
highest courts. The major trial courts are the courts of general jurisdiction, where felony
cases are heard. The lower courts, often referred to as inferior, misdemeanor, minor, or
courts of limited jurisdiction, exist in numerous combinations in every state. Various
named county, magistrate, police, municipal, justice of the peace, or justice courts, as
well as dozens of other designations, they are the entry point for most defendants and the
only level at which infractions and most misdemeanors are processed.
Levels of Jurisdiction in State Courts
Courts are authorized to hear and decide disputes arising within specific political
boundaries- a city, borough, township, county, or group of counties. In addition some
courts are limited to specific matters.
Courts of limited jurisdiction
, the lower courts, do not have powers that extend to
the overall administration of justice; they do not try felony cases; and they do not
possess appellate authority.
Courts of general jurisdiction
, the major trial courts, have the power and authority
to try and decide any case, including appeals from a lower court.