What is Circuit Court?

If you’ve ever been in a courthouse or watched a legal drama on TV and heard about circuit courts, you may have wondered, “what is circuit court?” If so, you’re probably not alone. Our court and legal system consist of a few different courts and circuit courts are among them. Here is an overview of circuit courts, including what they are and when they are used.

What are Circuit Courts?

Circuit courts are a branch of the court system that handles legal cases that are appealed. Unlike other court divisions, circuit courts are only used for the purpose of appeals. Circuit courts are higher than district courts but lower than the Supreme Court. Circuit courts do not impose sentencing or deal with penalty issues. A case has to be heard by a judge from district court before it can make its way to the circuit division of the court system.

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Roles of the Different Courts

The court system consists of different courts, and each of these courts has their own purpose or role. One is equally as important as the next. It’s just that each one is used for certain types of cases. The main court systems include the following.

  • District Courts
  • Circuit Courts
  • Supreme Court

District courts are used in a certain geographic area. Most states have many district courts, often one in each county. They hear litigation cases and also challenges for cases involving federal laws. Examples of this might be felonies, drug charges, divorce cases or issues involving voter rights or diversity-related cases. When a case is presented at the district court level, the sentencing and penalties are handled in district court.

If a person is found guilty of a felony charge in district court, and they disagree on the verdict or feel they were treated unfairly, they can appeal the case. Once the case is appealed, it’s sent to the circuit court and handled at that level. They only hear appeals on federal cases.

The Supreme Court is higher than circuit courts. If a case is sent to the Supreme Court, there is no guarantee that it will be handled in Supreme Court because the Supreme Court has the option of returning the case to circuit or district court for further review. Anything having to do with federal laws or federal statutes must be heard in federal district courts.

When Might Someone Need Circuit Court?

Circuit courts are very important because they often set a legal precedent for cases. Every year thousands of cases are sent to the supreme court, but the Supreme Court only accepts about 1 percent of those cases. In the majority of cases, the decisions are made and precedents are set in circuit courts. It usually always comes down to jurisdiction and which court has jurisdiction over a certain type of case. An offender can’t just decide that he or she wants the case handled in circuit courts. If an individual has a divorce hearing held in district court and is unhappy with the outcome, the individual can choose to appeal it to the circuit courts but only after it’s first heard in district court. The court systems can best be described as a chain of command.

Many people think they’ll never need to know the different court systems, and this may be true. Unfortunately, many people end up in court for situations out of their control. For these individuals, it’s important and beneficial to know what circuit courts are all about.