The federal court system and Texas state court system operate separately from the other. Federal courts serve the United States government by applying and interpreting federal law. There are three levels of courts within the federal judicial system: district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. Within Texas, the federal courts are further subdivided by geographical region, with southern, northern, eastern, and western districts. The federal courthouse in Brownsville houses the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Brownsville Division. As a criminal attorney in Brownsville Texas, I spend significant amounts of time representing clients.
State Courts – Justice and Municipal – Limited Jurisdiction
In Texas, the courts with the smallest jurisdictions are those at the local level – the Municipal and Justice Trial Courts. Very often petitioners and respondents choose to represent themselves, although both a civil and a criminal attorney can represent clients if necessary in municipal and justice courts. These are called a court of ‘no record’ which means that the proceedings are not written down or recorded for most cases that are heard, although a small minority of courts do elect to retain records at this level.
Justice Court – This is a court that hears civil cases of $10,000 or less, small claims, criminal cases of misdemeanors involving fines only, and designated magistrate functions.
Municipal Court – At this level, the court system is basically a local trial court that hears criminal cases involving fines only, a certain amount of civil disputes, cases involving municipal ordinance violations, and certain magistrate functions.
State Courts – County – Limited Jurisdiction
At this state level, there are three different areas: Constitutional, Statutory, and Statutory Probate Trial Courts. The first two share the largest amount of work and have their own levels of civil action while the latter court deals with probate issues only.
Constitutional – The work handled in this type of court includes: appeals from lower courts; cases involving juveniles; any misdemeanor cases involving fines over $500 and/or jail sentences; certain probate issues; and civil actions from $200 to $10,000.
Statutory – This involves an expansive range including all criminal, civil, appellate, and original actions as prescribed for constitutional county courts by law. In Cameron County, the County Courts at law has a maximum jurisdictional limit of $1,000,000.
Statutory Probate – There are only a few of these courts in the state that handle almost exclusively issues having to do with probate.
State Courts – District – General and Special Jurisdiction
This level of the judicial process is considered to be the primary trial court setting in Texas and covers a broad area of general jurisdiction over a designated geographical area. At such a level, all causes of action can be heard here unless governing statues specifically direct such cases to an appellate, original, or exclusive jurisdiction elsewhere.
Felony criminal action that are defended by a criminal attorney is handled at this level; appeals that originate from this judicial area are generally sent to the Court of Appeals except for criminal death sentence appeals that go directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
State Courts – Court of Appeals – Intermediate Appeal Jurisdiction
This level of the Texas Appellate Court System is referred to as an intermediate level and handles all appeals that proceed from lower-level trial courts within a respective district. Neither testimony or evidence is presented here and decisions are reached based on the record from the trial court; however, oral arguments may be presented for the specific issue that is being appealed. This system was planned to prevent most civil litigation from having to be heard by the Supreme Court as well as making available to a citizen and their criminal attorney a less expensive way to appeal a lower court’s decision.
State Courts – Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court – Highest Appeal Jurisdiction
There are two courts that serve as the ultimate level of appeal within the state of Texas: the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of Texas.
Supreme Court – The Texas Supreme Court has final authority over most juvenile and civil actions. A great deal of its time is spent determining if it will hear an appeal from a lower court as all requests for appeal must be examined and reviewed that are filed for action.
Court of Criminal Appeals – For criminal case appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals was established to relieve the case load of the Supreme Court of Texas. This is the highest level of appeals for a criminal attorney who is seeking relief for their clients from a prior judicial decision.
In Texas as in many other states, there are hundreds of courts at various levels, each with different jurisdictions based on location, topic, and offense severity with some overlapping between each one which can be confusing for average citizens. It is important to know that any trial heard at these different levels can be handled by an experienced civil or criminal attorney who can provide valuable knowledge and advice about the best way to handle a criminal or civil case through the Texas judicial system with the least amount of confusion – and hopefully the desired results.