The Texas court system consists of two basic types of courts the trial courts and the appellate courts (or courts of appeal).
The Trial Courts
Trial courts are courts in which witnesses are heard, exhibits are offered into evidence, and a verdict (in a jury trial) or a decision (in a case tried by a judge alone) is reached based on the facts of the case. In a civil case, the decision or verdict determines which party wins the lawsuit; in a criminal case, it determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime alleged.
Trial courts have original jurisdiction which means that all evidence is presented and all testimony is heard in these courts. There are four levels of trial courts.
- The state trial courts of general jurisdiction are:
- The district courts, which, in some metropolitan areas, specialize in civil, criminal, family law, or juvenile cases. The geographical area served by each individual district court is established by the specific statute creating that court. Each district court has one judge.
- The “Constitutional” County Court, each of the 254 counties in Texas has a county court presided over by a county judge. In Bexar County this court does not hear cases, instead the Legislature has established county courts at law and statutory probate courts to hear cases.
- Justice Courts, each county is required to have at least one justice court. The most populous counties may have as many as 16 courts. These courts also serve as small claims courts.
- Municipal Courts, within the city limits, these courts have concurrent criminal jurisdiction with the justice courts.
- Trial in the justice courts and most municipal courts is not of record, and appeals from these courts are by way of new trial in the county court or county court at law.
The Appellate Courts
Appellate courts hear appeals in cases which have been previously tried in the trial courts. No new evidence is presented and no witnesses are heard on the appeal of a case. The facts of the case have been determined at the trial, and all testimony and evidence are contained in the record which was made in the trial court and sent to the appellate court when the appeal was made. The appellate court makes its decision on the appeal based on a review of the record and the arguments of the attorneys for both sides. The decision is based solely upon the evidence contained in the record and the law which pertains to the facts of the case.
Certain trial courts, usually county courts, hear appeals from justice of the peace courts and from those municipal courts where no written record of the proceedings is made. In those situations the appeal takes the form of a trial de novo, which means that an entirely new trial is held since no record of the proceedings is made in the lower court. Some municipal courts are courts of record and appeals from them are based on the written record of the trial.
- A Supreme Court, which is the highest state appellate court for civil matters
- A Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the highest state appellate court for criminal matters
- 14 Courts of Appeals, which have intermediate appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases Bexar County is in the 4th Court of Appeals District
For information on specific courts such as, the types of cases heard, qualifications required, how they are selected, length of term, click the “THE COURTS” tab in the menu near the top of this page.
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