Types of Court Systems

The United States of America has a two-tiered court system. The federal court system handles cases that involve the Constitution or federal law. State courts handle all other disputes, including most criminal cases, contract disputes, and property damage claims.

What Types of Court Systems Are There in the US?

The United States Constitution created a dual court system, which is composed of the state courts and the federal courts. The federal government has limited jurisdiction over matters specifically delegated to it by the Constitution, such as bankruptcy, maritime law, and patent law. Outside of these areas, the state courts have exclusive jurisdiction.

The two-tiered court system in the United States is unique among developed countries. Most other nations have a single, unified court system handling both criminal and civil cases. The United States is one of the few countries that maintain two separate types of US court systems.

Federal Court

The federal court system comprises three levels: the district courts, the appellate courts, and the Supreme Court.

  • District court

District courts are the trial-level courts in the federal system. Each state has at least one district court, and the district courts are organized into 94 judicial districts. The roles of the district court are to hear both criminal and civil cases, as well as appeals from the lower courts. Also, the district courts have original jurisdiction over matters involving federal law.

  • Appellate courts

Appellate courts are the next level in the federal court system; 11 appellate courts in the United States are divided into 13 circuits. The appellate courts hear appeals from the district courts within their circuit. These courts do not conduct new trials, but they review the proceedings in the district court to ensure that the law was applied correctly.

  • Supreme court

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest in the land, and it has final authority over all other courts in the country. The Supreme Court is located in Washington, D.C., and consists of nine justices appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The Supreme Court hears appeals from the lower federal courts and state supreme courts in cases involving federal law. Other duties of the Supreme Court include resolving disputes between state governments and interpreting the Constitution.

State Court

The state court system is similar to the federal court system in that it is composed of three levels: the trial courts, the appellate courts, and the state supreme court.

  • Trial courts

Trial courts are the first level of the state court system, where criminal and civil cases are first heard. The trial court is where evidence is presented, witnesses are called to testify, and a verdict is reached. In most states, the trial courts are divided into two levels: the general trial courts and the specialized trial courts.

The general trial courts are also known as the district or superior courts. These courts have original jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases and appeals from the lower courts. The specialized trial courts are also known as inferior or subordinate courts. These courts have more limited jurisdiction, and they include such courts as the small claims court, the probate court, and the family court.

Bottom Line

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