A Brief Overview of the Judiciary of Texas
The State of Texas is certainly not known for trying to blend in with the crowd and be like other states. Texas is proud of its heritage and the many things that make it unique and special.
One area where Texas is definitely not afraid to be different is in its court system. The Judiciary of Texas is a relatively complex system compared to many other states, and it is divided into five tiers of courts, including the Local, County, and District trial courts, an Intermediate level of State appellate courts, and the highest level of State appellate courts.
These five levels are further divided into nine different types of courts base on various factors such as the subject matter of the case. If you are ever charged with a crime in the State of Texas, as opposed to being charged by the Federal government, your case will go to one more more of these courts to be decided.
In this blog, we will detail all of the types of courts of the Judiciary of Texas within the five different tiers.
The local level of the court system in Texas is divided into two different courts: Justice and Municipal courts. Justice courts, or Justice of the Peace courts, are the lowest level of court in Texas and they handle small claim civil actions, low level criminal actions that are not punishable by incarceration, and other magisterial functions. There are 819 justice courts in Texas—at least one in every county—which are presided over by a single elected Justice of the Peace.
Municipal courts are the most active courts in Texas, and handles primarily criminal misdemeanors (not punishable by incarceration) and has limited civil jurisdiction. Municipal courts have original jurisdiction over any violations of municipal ordinances and are presided over by elected—and sometimes appointed—judges. If the municipal court is a court of record then the judge is required to be an attorney, though there is no such requirement if the municipal court is not a court of record and some requirements to be a municipal judge can vary from city to city. There are 926 municipal courts in Texas with over 1500 judges
The county trial courts are made up of Constitutional, Statutory, and Probate courts, all of which are presided over by judges. All 254 counties in Texas have exactly one constitutional court which has exclusive original jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors with fines over $500 or potential jail time. They also have original jurisdiction to civil matters between $200-$10,000, handle juvenile and some probate cases, and de novo appeals from lower courts. County constitutional judges are elected officials and do not have to be attorneys. There are also 237 statutory courts at law dispersed through 88 counties in Texas which have been granted jurisdiction over the same criminal, civil, and appellate matters as the constitutional courts, but the judges are required to be attorneys.
There are also a limited number of probate courts in Texas (18 in 10 counties), which are limited only to probate matters.
Texas District courts are the state level of trial courts of general jurisdiction, with a total of 456 throughout the state which are presided over by a single judge for each court. District court jurisdiction is shared with the constitutional, statutory, and probate courts at the county level, and even the Justice courts under some circumstances. Judges at the district level must be licensed attorneys, and some of the district courts specialize in particular areas of the law (criminal, family, etc)
Intermediate State Appellate Court
The Courts of Appeals in Texas are comprised of 14 courts with 80 justices and handle trial court appeals (both civil and criminal) from lower courts within their designated geographic region. Each court has between three and thirteen justices, with a panel of three justices hearing most appeals.
Highest State Appellate Courts
Texas is one of only two states to utilize a bifurcated appellate court system, meaning the highest court in the state is divided into two branches. There is the Supreme Court, comprised of nine justices, that has final jurisdiction over civil and juvenile matters. The second is the Court of Criminal Appeals, which is also comprised of nine justices but, as the name indicates, has final appellate jurisdiction over all criminal cases. Most appeals will first go through the intermediate courts of appeals before going to the highest courts, however ALL criminal cases where the death penalty is imposed are automatically appealed directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals, bypassing the intermediate court entirely.
As you can see, the Judiciary of Texas is an incredibly complex system, which means it is vital that you enlist a defense attorney with a complete and thorough knowledge of the system to protect your rights and interests when you are charged with a crime in Texas. Call the Whalen Law Office today to learn more.