What is Superior Court?

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Superior courts started out as courts of general jurisdiction, capable of hearing any civil or criminal matter. This was considered "superior" to courts of limited jurisdiction. Today many states term their trial courts "superior courts," whether or not there are lower courts of lesser jurisdiction.

Given their name, superior courts must be better than some other courts, right? In fact, these courts started out as courts of general jurisdiction, capable of hearing any civil or criminal matter, which was considered "superior" to courts of limited jurisdiction. Today many states term their trial courts "superior courts," whether or not there are inferior courts of lesser jurisdiction.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Superior court is the name given to the trial courts in many states, including California, Arizona, Connecticut and Alaska, but other states use the term for appellate courts.

Superior Courts by State

Every state has a judicial system that includes both trial courts and appellate courts. Cases begin in trial courts, and that is where civil and criminal complaints are filed, juries are seated, witnesses are called to testify and verdicts are rendered. Appellate courts review the legal decisions of a trial court, but they do not reweigh factual questions.

The trial courts of many states are called superior courts. This includes California, Washington, Georgia, Arizona, Connecticut and Alaska. Other states call these types of courts circuit courts (e.g., in Michigan) or supreme courts (e.g., in New York.)

But some states use the term "superior court" to refer to different types of courts. For example, in the Pennsylvania judicial system, the Superior Court is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. They hear appeals. The Commonwealth Court is the other appellate court at this level.

What Cases Are Heard in Superior Court

As the general trial courts of the state, superior courts are the starting point for all court cases, civil or criminal. That means that when someone wants to sue another person, divorce or prosecute a crime, the complaint is filed in superior court.

Some superior courts are divided into branches, each responsible for certain types of cases. For example, in California, divorces and child custody issues are heard in family court, probate matters in probate court and criminal cases in criminal court. But all of these courts are part of the superior court.

What is Superior Court Jury Duty?

As trial courts with original jurisdiction, superior courts are where trials take place. All criminal defendants are entitled to a jury trial, and many civil litigants choose jury trials as well. In a jury trial, it is the jury that determines the factual issues of the case. Did the defendant steal the money? Did the speeding car cause the accident? The jury hears evidence presented by both sides, then renders a verdict.

Juries are made up of citizens living in the community where the trial takes place. People are summoned for jury duty, meaning that they are potential jurors for any cases coming up the week they are called to serve. Jury duty is the obligation of citizens to act in this capacity so that the parties of a civil case or the defendants in a criminal case get fair trials.

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About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.