Mississippi Court System

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The Mississippi judicial network comprises of an apex body, a Court of Appeals and numerous general and limited jurisdiction tribunals. A two tier appellate system is used to handle reviews from lower tribunals. In terms of trial courts, these are segregated into those that have general authority over all criminal and civil cases and others that can only hear specific types of cases.

The appellate courts

The Supreme Court: At the top of the judicial hierarchy is the Mississippi Supreme Court. It is the court of last resort meaning that once a verdict is delivered by this tribunal, there is no going above it. Decisions made by the Court of Appeals, the Chancery, County and Circuit Courts can all be taken to the Supreme Court. However, among its many powers is discretionary jurisdiction, which means that the Supreme Court is not obligated to entertain all appeals.

Yet, some cases go directly to the apex tribunal; these include bond issues, annexations, matters pertaining to constitutional challenges, capital punishment, matters involving disciplinary action against attorneys, election contests, utility rate related disputes and issues that are in the general interest of the public. Nine justices are appointed to the apex tribunal and they are elected from three judicial districts.

The Court of Appeals: This tribunal hears appeals that are forwarded from the trial courts and also those that are assigned to it by the Supreme Court. Contrary to popular belief, cases are not heard anew at this judicial level; this is more of an error corrections court in which the tribunal reviews if the lower courts have made a mistake in following a specific law.

Decisions of the Court of Appeals can only be reviewed by the Supreme Court. If the apex tribunal refuses to review, the decision of the Court of appeals is considered final and a binding. The Court of Appeals is served by 10 judges who are elected from 5 judicial districts by non partisan elections. They serve eight year terms and go all over the state to hear cases.

Trial courts

Trial courts are where evidence is presented and case points are argued; these tribunals base their decision on the facts presented before the bench or a jury panel. Included in this category are:

Circuit Courts: Constitutionally designed to handle criminal prosecutions as well as civil litigations, the circuit courts also have the jurisdiction to hear appeals from lower tribunals at the county and municipal level. They have general jurisdiction which means that the bulk of all civil and criminal cases are tried in these court rooms.

Across Mississippi, there are 22 circuit courts which are served by 532 judges. One to four magistrates handle each tribunal and they are elected by non-partisan elections for four years terms. The verdict is delivered by 12 member jury panels.

Chancery Courts: These tribunals have jurisdiction over disputes involving domestic matters, equity, custody of minors, adoption, legal guardianship, divorces, wills, probates and sanity hearings. Cases are heard by a chancellor in these tribunals without a jury and in counties where a county court is not available, the chancery court has jurisdiction in juvenile matters. There are 20 chancery courts across the state, which are served by 49 chancery court judges.

Limited jurisdiction tribunals

On the last rung of the judiciary are county and municipal courts. There are 21 of the former and 226 of the latter. Apart from this, there are also 182 justice courts in this mix. Each of these tribunals has the authority to hear certain types of cases. For instance, county courts can handle non-capital felony cases and civil matters in which the disputed amount is not in excess of $30,000. Municipal and county courts also deals with the issue of MS arrest warrants.