Texas Court System

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For anyone who wants to access and obtain legal court records in Texas, understanding how the court system works is vital. There are three separate branches of government at both the state and federal levels in the United States. These are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The legislative branch writes bills and creates laws, the executive branch enforces the laws, and the judicial branch explains and interprets the laws by holding hearings and making decisions about legal cases.

The State of Texas court system is composed of the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which are considered the state’s highest appellate courts. Aside from these two, Texas also has courts of appeals, county-level courts, district-level courts, municipal courts, and justice of the peace courts. The Texas Supreme Court is located in Austin, where there are nine justices present to preside over civil and juvenile cases. Each justice is given a six-year term of service, but can remain in the position if re-elected in a general election. The Texas court system has final and full appellate jurisdiction for both civil and juvenile cases, but its decisions can be reviewed in the United States Supreme Court if there are questions of federal law.

The highest and final appellate for criminal cases in Texas is the Court of Criminal Appeals, which is composed of nine judges. All judges are qualified and elected in the same manner as justices of the Supreme Court. When the Court of Criminal Appeals hears cases, three judges are present, a majority of whom must agree in order to decide a case. When the court hears cases involving capital punishment, all nine judges are present and five must agree in order to decide a case. The decisions made by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are final, but can be appealed in the United States Supreme Court if there are questions regarding the federal law.

Texas has 14 courts of appeals with 80 justices. Each of the courts of appeals covers a specific geographic district. The courts of appeals are considered the intermediate level appellate courts that hear cases from both the district and the county level courts. The courts of appeals hear cases in the presence of three justices, two of whom must agree on a decision. Decisions made in the courts of appeals may be reviewed in the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and lastly the United States Supreme Court. Requests for review can either be accepted or denied as the court sees fit.

Texas has 456 district courts with 456 judges. The district courts are considered the state trial courts of general and special jurisdiction. Thirteen of these are designated as criminal district courts while others are directed to give preference to certain specialized areas. 359 of the districts contain one county while the remaining 97 districts contain more than one county. Judges in district courts are elected to four-year terms. As a court of general jurisdiction, trials and hearings for both criminal and civil cases take place here. These cases may involve criminal and juvenile matters, title actions, divorces, and contested probate matters.

The county-level courts are considered county trial courts of limited jurisdiction. There are 506 county courts and 506 judges. County courts can have one of three designations: constitutional county court, county court at law, or statutory probate court. The constitutional county courts have original jurisdiction in civil actions between $200 and $10,000, uncontested probate matters, misdemeanors with fines greater than $500 or a jail sentence, as well as appeals forwarded from municipal courts. The county courts at law have jurisdiction over all civil, criminal, original, and appellate actions prescribed by law for constitutional county courts, as well as civil matters between $200 and $100,000. The statutory probate courts are limited to only probate cases.

The municipal courts and the justice of the peace courts are the local trial courts of limited jurisdiction. The justice of the peace courts have jurisdiction over criminal actions of not more than $10,000, small claims, criminal misdemeanors punishable by fine only, and magistrate functions. The municipal courts, on the other hand, have jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors punishable by fine only, exclusive original jurisdiction over municipal ordinance criminal cases, limited civil jurisdiction, and magistrate functions.