Courts in Alabama
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Courts in Alabama include a state court system and three federal district courts.
Alabama's state court system is divided into three levels. The appeals courts preside over appeals of lower court decisions. The trial courts have jurisdiction over most legal matters in Alabama, and its decisions can be appealed to the appeals courts. The limited courts operate at the county and city level.
The Supreme Court is Alabama's highest court and has the authority to review the decisions reached by the lower courts. The Supreme Court is also authorized to review matters of contention where the dollar amount in question exceeds $50,000 (if no other Alabama court has jurisdiction).
Established in 1969, this court considers civil matters, including those related to domestic situations such as divorce, adoptions, child custody, etc. Judges of these courts rule on cases appealed from certain state administrative agencies, such as workers' compensation. The Court of Civil Appeals also has jurisdiction in civil appeals where the amount in controversy does not exceed $50,000.
Also established in 1969, the Court of Criminal Appeals considers only appeals from felony and misdemeanor trials or convictions.
There are 41 circuit courts in Alabama. These courts have general jurisdiction, meaning the majority of legal matters in Alabama are addressed here. The circuit courts have jurisdiction over all felony prosecutions and in proceedings where the disputed amount or damages exceed $10,000. They may also exercise jurisdiction in juvenile courts, in proceedings where the disputed amount is more than $3,000, and in certain appeals from lower courts.
Courts of limited jurisdiction
The limited jurisdiction courts in Alabama oversee specific matters such as probate, juvenile justice, or small claims. Municipal and district courts are also considered courts of limited jurisdiction. Alabama's 67 counties are divided into 41 judicial circuits. Courts of limited jurisdiction are found in each county.
Municipal courts preside over cases involving municipal violations and criminal misdemeanors that fall within a city's police jurisdiction. Most Alabama cities have a municipal court.
Each county has one of the following:
Probate courts deal with issues like estates, wills, real property, adoption and so on.
- Juvenile Courts
Juvenile courts have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases where the parties involved are under the age of 18. The juvenile court proceedings are considered confidential, a feature which applies only to juvenile courts in Alabama.
- Small Claims Court
Small claims court is where cases concerning matters of less than $3,000 are heard.
District courts handle the cases where the dollar amount in question is more than $3,000 (small claims) but less than $10,000 (circuit court). District courts also have jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors and may conduct preliminary hearings in felony prosecutions.
Judges per court
- The Alabama Supreme Court, the state's court of last resort, has nine justices.
- The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has five judges who are elected to six-year terms in partisan elections.
- The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has five judges who are elected to six-year terms in partisan elections.
- The Alabama Circuit Courts is composed of 40 courts across the state, and a total of 131 judges sit on Circuit Court benches.
- The Alabama Probate Courts have 68 judges across the state.
- The Alabama District Courts are served by 98 judges in 67 courts in the state.
- There are 256 Alabama Municipal Courts, served by 228 judges.
The federal district courts in Alabama are:
- United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
- United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama
- United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama
Each of these courts has a corresponding bankruptcy court:
- United States bankruptcy court, Middle District of Alabama
- United States bankruptcy court, Northern District of Alabama
- United States bankruptcy court, Southern District of Alabama
Rulings made by these courts can be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Judge Tracy S. McCooey was responsible for the launching of the restorative justice programs in Montgomery, Alabama. The programs focus on personal interaction. She emphasized the importance of the judge’s role in transforming lives, and the need for action and connection outside the courtroom.
- Alabama State Bar, "Alabama's Court System brochure"
- Alabama's Court System, "Courts of Limited Jurisdiction section"
- Alabama judicial system, "Chart"
- Fairnessworks.com, "A Visionary Judge Makes Restorative Justice Come Alive in Alabama," April 28, 2011
- Cutting Edge Law, "Judge Tracy McCooey: Maverick in Problem-Solving Courts and Restorative Justice"