California Courts 101: How the State Court System Is Organized
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California Courts 101: How the State Court System Is Organized

Monday, July 17, 2017By Richard Alexander

Unless you’re in court often, it can be hard to tell exactly how the courts are organized here in California. Luckily, this short guide will explain much of the structure of our state’s court system. For a more detailed explanation, go here.

Most courts in California can be put into one of two groups: state or federal.

California State Courts

The state courts are divided into two types, trial courts and appellate courts. Trial courts are where a judge or jury hears cases. These include civil and criminal cases, along with appeals of small cases.

There are 58 trial courts in the Golden State, one for each county. These are known as "superior courts." There are two types of appellate courts in the state court system: courts of appeal and the California Supreme Court. The courts of appeal are used to review the trial court’s decision if a party to the case believes he or she wrongfully lost all or part of a case. The superior court system also includes an appellate level for minor cases, known as the "appellate division." However, higher value cases are appealed to the California courts of appeal.

In the state courts of appeal, three judges determine whether a legal mistake was made in the case being appealed and whether or not that mistake affected the outcome of the case. There are six courts of appeal in California, and each one covers a number of counties.

If a party is dissatisfied with the result in his or her first-level appeal, the case may be appealed to the California Supreme Court, which is also where death penalty appeals and cases involving judges are heard. The cases are presented, then decided upon by seven judges, and four must agree on a decision.

California Federal Courts

As in the rest of the country, the California federal court system has three categories: U.S. district courts, U.S. courts of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The district courts are the federal trial courts. They handle any federal criminal or civil cases. There are 94 district courts across the U.S. and its territories, including four in California alone.

Federal district courts are arranged into 12 regions. Each region has its own court of appeals, which functions the first level of review when a party is dissatisfied with a trial court decision. California is part of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. It has a Chief Justice and eight associate justices. The U.S. Supreme Court usually only handles cases that have to do with the constitution or U.S. federal law, such as when there is a conflict in how lower courts handle issues of law.

The California court system is complex. You need lawyers who know every detail. At Alexander Law Group, LLP, our team of professionals will get you the representation you and your case deserve. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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