Georgia’s court system is classified into five different divisions. Below the state level, there are about 350 municipal court divisions. Each court level specializes in dealing with certain types of cases. One of the reasons it is important to hire an experienced attorney in any court situation is because they will be aware of the proper guidelines of each court and proceed accordingly. Each of the divisions are trial courts, but not all of them hear trials that require juries. The divisions include:
- Court of Appeals
Georgia’s juvenile court primarily hears criminal and traffic cases involving individuals under 17 years of age. More serious criminal cases involving youth may be brought to Superior Court. Judges in juvenile courts are appointed to four year terms pursuant to the agreement of the county’s superior court judges. On issues involving custody and support in divorce cases, and in petitions to terminate parental rights, juvenile courts have been given concurrent jurisdiction with the superior courts. These courts might also hear matters concerning minors’ consent to marry, interstate runaway child returns or the enlistment of a minor into the armed forces.
Every county has a chief magistrate who is appointed by his or her local county government. That magistrate can lawfully appoint other magistrates. These courts hear minor criminal cases and civil cases when the amount in controversy is less than $15,000. Magistrates can also issue warrants for searches, seizures, and arrests. Jury trials are not held in these courts.
The duties of a probate court judge primarily include the administration of the estates of people who pass away with or without wills. Other duties include but are not limited to guardianships and the involuntary commitment of adults with mental disabilities. In counties with populations less than 96,000, a probate judge might also perform other functions.
State courts are created in the Georgia General Assembly, and they are conferred limited jurisdiction. State court judges are elected by voters in their counties, and their terms last four years. State court judges preside over certain civil cases that don’t fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the superior courts. They might also preside over preliminary hearings in criminal cases. Should a judicial vacancy arise in a state court, the governor appoints someone to fill the position until the next election.
There are 49 superior circuit courts in Georgia, and they have jurisdiction to hear both civil and criminal cases. All felony trials and divorce cases are heard in superior courts. They’re also given authority to correct any errors coming from courts with limited jurisdiction. The Georgia General Assembly authorizes the number of superior court judges in each county. Each superior court circuit has a chief judge.
The various municipal courts are scattered throughout the state of Georgia. They primarily hear traffic and ordinance violation cases, but they might also hold preliminary hearings and issue warrants. Most municipal court judges are appointed by the local mayor.
Court of Appeals
Above all of the five divisions of the court system and the municipal courts is the Georgia Court of Appeals that hears both civil and criminal appeals when a party claims that a lower court made a legal error. The Court of appeals consists of four panels of three judges each. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Georgia is the state’s highest court that hears appeals alleging error in the Court of Appeals, the constitutionality of ordinances and state laws and all cases involving capital punishment.
Although there are general rules of practice, each division of the courts has its own special rules that must be followed. Georgia’s court system is highly complex. Without an experienced attorney to guide you through those rules, you may have a difficult time navigating the legal steps necessary to see your case through. If you are in need of an attorney, we encourage you to call the offices of Tate Law Group at (912) 333-3915 or contact us here.