The Structure of our Court System: Trial – Appellate – Judicial – Supreme


The entire state court systems, as well as federal court system, have at least two types of courts, trial courts and appellate courts, each state is also free to structure its judiciary in any manner. That is why there are significant differences found in different court systems.

Trial courts are what most people think of when they think of courts. Trial courts are where a case begins, where witnesses are heard and evidence is presented, sometimes to a jury and sometimes only to a judge. In the federal system, trial courts are known as United States District Courts. Since the United States is divided into 94 judicial districts, state boundaries are used to establish district limits. Every state has a least one district with larger states having more than one. State trial courts are known by various names, such as district, superior, county, and circuit courts but despite their variations, many courts are basically the same.

Appellate courts are different because they do not hold trials, instead they review the record from the trial court and examine it for mistakes, known as trial court error. Appellate courts usually hear arguments from the attorneys involved in the case under review. No witnesses are heard and no other evidence is admitted. After the appellate court reviews the evidence and examines it for errors, it makes its opinion. The appellate court can reverse, affirm, or remand the lower courts decision. When a decision is reversed, the appellate court is saying that a mistake was made during the trial and the trial court has to change its decision, when a decision is affirmed by the appellate court, it is agreeing with the decision the trial court made, and the first decision is left unchanged.

There are eleven judicial circuits in the United States, with one court of appeal in each circuit. There is also a court of appeal for Washington, D.C. and for the Federal Circuit, which means there’s thirteen United States Courts of Appeal in all.

The highest court in the country is the United States Supreme Court. Appeals from the circuit courts are taken to the Supreme Court, and appeals of federal issues from the state supreme courts are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. Usually the people of this county have the right to appeal to any court, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down 97% of cases appealed within the last few years. So it would be a good idea not to get into a real bind within the court system because the States Supreme Courts and federal circuit courts are often a defendant’s last chance to have his or her case heard.

Most state trial courts are known as courts of general jurisdiction. These courts have the authority to hear a broad range of cases, including civil law as well as criminal law. Courts of limited jurisdiction have only limited authority and may only hear specific types of cases. Some states employ systems that have specialized trial courts to handle domestic, civil, or criminal cases. No matter what type of problem a person has in this country, there is a court system to handle the problem.

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