Most states have a similar court structure even though the names of the individual courts may differ. Most states have a trial court, the lowest level court, a court of appeals, and a court of last resort (a supreme court).
The lowest level court in each state is the Trial Court of Limited Jurisdiction. These courts handle cases involving probate, traffic violations, divorce and custody, and small claims lawsuits. In Arizona the Trial Court of Limited Jurisdiction is called the Municipal Court or Justice of the Peace Courts.
The next level of court is the Trial Court of General Jurisdiction. Both civil and criminal cases can be heard in these courts, and there is usually a jury present. In Arizona the Trial Court of General Jurisdiction is called the Superior Court. The Superior Court may also hear appeals from the Justice of the Peace Court and the Municipal Court.
Arizona also has a special court below the Court of Appeals called the Arizona Tax Court. Cases involving state tax issues are heard here.
The Intermediate Appellate Court falls between the Trial Court of General Jurisdiction and the highest level court in the state. In Arizona, this court is called the Court of Appeals. In most cases, parties have the right to an appeal, so appeals from lower courts will be heard at this level of court.
The highest court in Arizona is called the Supreme Court. Because Arizona has an intermediate court of appeals where parties can appeal lower court decisions, the State Supreme Court may or may not decide to hear certain cases. However, certain issues such as election disputes often go straight to the state's highest court.
The federal court system is made up of three levels. The U.S. District Courts are the lowest level of federal courts. Each state has at least one district court and some states have three or four. In total, there are 94 U.S. District Courts. Usually, cases involving federal laws begin at this level of court.
Decisions made in the district courts may be appealed if one party is dissatisfied with the outcome; these appeals are heard in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There are 13 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States: 11 regional circuit courts, a federal circuit court, and a circuit court in Washington D.C.
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