California Court System

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California courts belong to the judicial branch of government, whose job is to interpret the laws. In California, there are federal and state courts, which have different jurisdictions. That means they hear cases involving different matters, mainly federal vs. state laws.

The California state court system is further divided into trial courts and appellate courts. California trial courts have original jurisdiction, which means they hear cases the first time they are brought to court. These courts are also called Superior Courts. Each California county has its own trial court. There are 58 counties and 58 trial courts. These courts can hear all civil and criminal cases, appeals of small claims and civil cases worth $25,000 or less, and appeals of misdemeanor cases.

The state of California has six appellate courts, as well as the California Supreme Court, which is also considered an appellate court, although it has original jurisdiction in certain cases. The six appellate courts are the mid level appellate courts, which hear appeals of cases in the trial courts. For the appeals process to begin, the person appealing a case must obtain a writ of certiorari, wherein the appellate court orders the trial court to turn the case over to them. A California appeals court won’t hear a case just become the individuals involved didn’t like the outcome. There must be an argument that a legal error was made that would change the outcome of the case. An example of an error is that a judge could admit evidence into a case that was obtained illegally.

In the CA appellate court, each side will get to make a presentation to the judges, but there are no witnesses and no jury, because the focus is on whether legal errors were made. In the six California appellate courts, three judges hear the case, and there must be a majority consensus for them to make a decision. The judges are able to agree with the decision of the trial court, partially agree and partially disagree, or they can disagree and overturn the trial court’s decision.

For an appeal of a case decided by an appellate court, it must go to the California Supreme Court. This court also hears death penalty appeals from trial courts, and it has original jurisdiction for cases involving the discipline of judges or lawyers. The California Supreme Court has seven justices, and four must agree to make a decision. To become a California Supreme Court justice, you must be a lawyer, and you must be appointed by the governor. Then you must be confirmed by the voters in the next election. These justices serve 12 year terms, and if they want to continue after that, they must be confirmed by California voters again in an election.

The federal court system is closely related to the California state court system. The federal court system has three levels: the district courts, the appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court. The district courts are distributed based on population. There are 94 in the country. Some states only have one and some states have multiple district courts. California has several district courts. Sometimes, when there is a diversity case, it will be heard in the district court. A diversity cases means there is a dispute between citizens of different jurisdictions, for example a citizen of California and a citizen of Texas. There are also courts that hear particular kinds of cases, regardless of the district. These are the Court of International Trade, which hears cases about international trade and custom issues, and the United States Court of Federal Claims, which hears cases against the United States federal government. These can include cases regarding damages done by the government, contract disputes involving the government, and cases involving the illegal seizure of private property by the United States government.

There are 12 federal circuits, one of which each district court belongs to, and each of these circuits has an appeals court. These courts hear appeals from district courts in their circuits, and they can also hear appeals from federal agencies, which create laws in their executive function, as well as interpret their laws in their judicial function.

Finally, there is the U.S. Supreme Court. This court decides which cases to hear bases on whether there are important questions of constitutional or federal law present in the case.