The Texas judicial branch, alongside its executive and legislative branches all collaborate to enforce law and administer justice in the state. The Texas judiciary operates an elaborate system of state and federal courts each with its own focus and jurisdiction.
The Texas court system is made up of Appellate Courts and Trial Courts. All criminal and civil cases heard in Texas are initiated in Trial Courts. In these courts, evidence is offered, witnesses are heard, and testimonies received before verdicts are rendered. Generally, decisions rendered in Trial Courts can be appealed in the state's Courts of Appeals. However, the Texas Justice Courts and most of the Municipal Courts are not courts of records, and so appeals from these courts are heard de novo in the state's County or District Courts. This means that the cases are tried as if no previous trial had occurred.
The Texas Courts of Appeals are intermediate Appellate Courts that have jurisdiction over most appellate matters in the state except for cases that are exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Court of Criminal Appeals. These courts do not hear new testimonies or admit fresh evidence. Instead, the judges review the records of the Trial Courts and briefs submitted by the appealing parties before they render decisions on cases. The State of Texas is divided into 14 appellate districts, and a Court of Appeals serves the counties located in each of these districts.
Decisions rendered in the Courts of Appeals can be further appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for civil and criminal cases, respectively. The Appellate Courts have discretionary jurisdiction over the cases they accept for review, except for cases involving the death penalty. These types of cases are automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals from the Trial Courts. In the Texas court system, the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals are the highest authorities, and decisions reached by these courts are considered final. Some of these decisions may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals each consist of nine Supreme court justices, while the Texas Courts of Appeals are statutorily required to have at least three justices at any given time. Each county in Texas has at least one District Court, one County Court, and one Justice Court, and each of these courts has a judge that presides over cases filed there. There are also 18 Probate Courts in the Texas court system. Justices and judges in the Texas court system are elected in partisan elections to four-year terms. In Municipal Courts, judges are selected in accordance with the rules stipulated by the governing body of the municipality where the court is located. These judges typically serve either two-year or four-year terms.
All courts in the Texas system have an administrative office which performs all its clerical functions and generate Texas court records in keeping with the state's public records laws. These records are made available to interested and eligible members of the public, and they provide an official account of judicial proceedings in the state.
What is the Supreme Court of Texas?
The Supreme Court of Texas is the state's highest court for all civil and juvenile matters. In addition to having final appellate jurisdiction over civil and juvenile matters, this court is also responsible for overseeing the administration of the Texas Judiciary and has the power to issue any writs that are necessary to enforce its jurisdiction.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the state's court of final jurisdiction over all criminal matters. This court exercises discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all felony and misdemeanor cases that do not involve juveniles and exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all death penalty appeals. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also has the authority to issue writs.
Texas Courts of Appeals
The Texas Courts of Appeals are the state's intermediate appellate courts. There are 14 Courts of Appeals in the Texas court system, and these courts have appellate jurisdiction over all criminal and civil matters heard in the state. However, cases that involve the death penalty are appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Decisions rendered in these courts can be appealed to either the Supreme Court of Texas or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Texas District Courts
Texas District Courts are the state's trial courts of general jurisdiction, and they have jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases heard in the state. However, these courts typically hear cases that are outside the jurisdiction of the other trial courts. The Texas District Courts also hear appeals from some of the state's lower courts. There is at least one District Court in each of the state's counties.
Texas County Courts
There are two types of Texas County Courts: Texas Constitutional County Courts and Texas County Courts at Law, also known as the Texas Statutory Courts. Constitutional County Courts can be found in each of the state's counties while County Courts at Law are typically found in counties with large populations. These courts have jurisdiction over certain civil and criminal matters. The Constitutional County Courts also have appellate jurisdiction over Justice Courts and Municipal Courts that are not courts of record.
Texas Probate Courts
Texas Probate Courts are non-jury trial courts that have original jurisdiction over probate, guardianship, and mental health matters in the counties where they are located. There are currently 18 Probate Courts in the Texas court system and they are located in Bexar, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Galveston, Harris, Hidalgo, Tarrant, and Travis counties.
Texas Justice Courts
The Texas Justice Courts are limited jurisdiction non-jury trial courts. These courts typically hear civil matters that involve less than $20,000 and criminal matters that involve Class C misdemeanors punishable by fines only. Justice Courts are not courts of records, and appeals from these courts are tried de novo in the Texas District and County Courts.
Texas Municipal Courts
Texas Municipal Courts are trial courts that have exclusive jurisdiction over all ordinance violations in the municipalities where they are located. Municipal Courts also have jurisdiction over misdemeanor offenses committed within a municipality that are punishable by fine only. The Texas court system currently has over 900 Municipal Courts. Appeals from judgments issued in these courts are heard by the District and County Courts. Most Municipal Courts are not courts of record, and these appeals are tried de novo. However, appeals from Municipal Courts that are courts of record are not tried de novo.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Texas?
An appeal is a legal process that involves an appellate court reviewing the decision rendered by a lower court in a case. The Texas court system utilizes a bifurcated appellate system. This means that there are two highest courts in the state, the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The state also has 14 intermediate appellate courts, which are the Courts of Appeals. Appeals are typically heard in these courts before they can be heard by either the Supreme Court or Court of Criminal Appeals
When a party is unsatisfied with a verdict or decision issued by a District, County, or Probate Court, an appeal can be filed with the appropriate Court of Appeals. Each Court of Appeals serves only the counties that are located in its appellate district.
The Courts of Appeals each has at least three justices. Courts that have more than three justices may either hear cases in panels of three or before the entire bench. Texas Courts of Appeals are not trial courts, therefore new testimonies, evidence, or witnesses are not considered. Instead, the justices review the records of the cases as presented in the trial courts, and make their decisions based on these reviews. In some cases, the justices may allow the appealing parties to present oral arguments before rendering their decisions.
After a decision is rendered, any unsatisfied party can file a motion for a rehearing of the case. If the case was heard by a panel of three justices in a Court of Appeals that has more than three serving justices, an appeal can also be made for the case to be reheard by all judges in attendance. If the motion for a rehearing is denied or if the decision rendered after the hearing is still unsatisfactory to any of the appealing parties, then another appeal can be made to either the Supreme Court of Texas for civil and juvenile matters or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal matters.
The Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals each consists of nine justices. These justices typically hear cases in panels of three. However, in cases that involve the death penalty, the Court of Criminal Appeals is required to sit with all justices present. Just like the Courts of Appeals, the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals reach decisions by reviewing the records of the lower courts. These courts may also listen to oral arguments presented by the appealing partings. When a decision is reached by these courts, a motion for a rehearing of the case can be filed. If this motion is denied, then the decision reached is considered final.
Parties that wish to file appeals in the State of Texas are required to do so within a particular time. Appeals to the Texas Courts of Appeals must be made not later than 30 days after a verdict was issued by the trial court. Motions for a rehearing of a case must be filed not later than 15 days after a decision has been rendered by any of the Appellate Courts.
An appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas must be filed not later than 45 days after either the decision in the case was rendered by a Court of Appeals or the motion for rehearing was denied. An appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must be made not later than 30 days after a decision was issued or a motion for rehearing was denied by the Court of Appeals.
Note that the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have discretionary jurisdiction over the cases they review. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over death penalty cases, and these types of cases are automatically appealed directly to this court from the Trial Courts. Also, appeals from cases involving an injunctive relief granted or denied by a trial court that is based on the constitutionality of a state statute are appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Texas?
A case number is a number assigned to a particular case when it is filed in court. These numbers usually indicate the types of cases filed and date they were filed. Knowing the correct case number when trying to locate a court record can help in the speedy location of the requested records, and most courts require this information when attending to record requests. Some counties may charge an additional search fee if the requestor does not, or cannot, provide the case number for a requested court record. An example of this is Tarrant County, where a $5 research fee is charged for a court record request that does not include a case number.
Does Texas Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, the State of Texas holds remote trials. On the 13th of March, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued the First Emergency Order Regarding The COVID-19 State of Disaster. This order, which was renewed and amended on the 11th of November, 2020 as the Twenty Ninth Emergency Order Regarding The COVID-19 State of Disaster, authorizes individuals involved in Texas court proceedings to participate in these proceedings remotely through methods like teleconferencing and videoconferencing. The order also authorizes Texas courts to receive sworn statements and testimony given remotely as evidence.
According to this order, any in-person court proceedings held in Texas Courts must be conducted in line with the guidance issued by the office of Court Administration, and all courts in the state are required to submit an operating plan before they can commence these in-person proceedings. In addition, Justice and Municipal Courts are prohibited from holding any type of in-person jury proceedings, while District, County, and Probate Courts that wish to hold in-person jury proceedings can only do so under the following conditions:
- The local administrative district judge for the county where the court is located has appropriately submitted a plan for conducting the jury proceedings in accordance with the guidance issued by the Office of Court Administration
- The court has obtained prior approval from the local administrative judge and the regional presiding judge to assist with the coordination of local resources and the management of capacity issues
- The local administrative district judge has consulted the local public health authority at least five days before the proceeding, and has verified that local health conditions and plan precautions are appropriate for the jury proceeding
- All motions and objections related to the jury proceeding have been considered on the record at least seven days before the proceeding or as soon as practicable in cases where the motion or objection was filed or made within seven days of the proceeding
- Communication protocols have been established by the court to ensure that none of the participants involved in the jury proceeding have either tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 30 days, are currently having symptoms of the virus, or have had recent known exposure to the virus
Note that the prohibition of in-person jury proceedings in Texas Justice and Municipal is expected to be lifted on the 1st of February, 2021.
As part of its efforts to facilitate openness during remote trials, the Texas Judiciary provides interested members of the public with access to live streams of court proceedings.