The Georgia Court System

 

The Georgia court system represents the state government's judicial branch. Many different types of courts operate in this system, and the names of courts can be a little confusing. For example, “state courts” do not have statewide jurisdiction, or power. Remember that there are three different types of courts:

  1. Minor courts or courts with limited jurisdiction: These courts might be in smaller government units. They also might handle less serious offenses–from traffic tickets to violations of city ordinances.
  2. General trial courts, called Superior Courts in Georgia: Superior Courts can hear a wider range of criminal or civil cases and are thus “superior” to minor courts.  Felonies (serious crimes like robbery, burglary, and murder) are handled by  Superior Court.
  3. Appeal courts: Citizens can appeal to these courts when they are found guilty in a lower court. The state’s highest appeals court is the Supreme Court of Georgia

The diagram below shows more detail of Georgia’s courts and how they relate to one another.

Click to enlarge

This Georgia Web site provides good definitions of each type of court in George.

What Are the Qualifications for Judges in Georgia?

As in many states, the judges who serve in Georgia’s courts or judiciary are sometimes appointed and sometimes elected. For example, the judges in Superior courts are elected to four-year terms. The justices of the Supreme Court of Georgia are also elected, serving for six years at a time. If a justice dies in office, the governor appoints someone to serve the rest of the term.

Campaigns for judgeships are nonpartisan (with the exception of partisan probate and magistrate court judges), meaning that candidates do not run as Democrats or Republicans. Instead, candidates may run simply on their qualifications—where they were educated and how much experience they have. Candidates for judgeships might identify issues on which they are experts. They do not, however, want to state their position on an issue. This would suggest to voters they might not be open-minded. What Do You Think? Why do you think most judgeship campaigns are nonpartisan?

The Importance of the Supreme Court of Georgia

The Supreme Court of Georgia has three distinct functions:

  • It hears appeals from the lower courts. Any case from a family dispute over a will to a death penalty case can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • It decides whether state laws are constitutional. This function gives the judiciary the power to check and balance the other branches of government.
  • It decides all contested elections.

Georgia Courts and the Federal Court System

The U.S. government is structured so that power is shared between the states and the federal government. Ultimate authority is granted to the federal government. State courts in Georgia handle most of the issues affecting residents of Georgia. But many federal district courts exist in Georgia, too. These district courts try cases of federal crimes as well as appeals to those cases. The federal authority is obvious in another example. A Georgia citizen could appeal a decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, shared powers are reflected in the fact that the amendments of the U.S. Constitution have been incorporated into the Georgia state constitution and the constitutions of every other state. Thus, a Georgian could defend him- or herself in a Georgia court using his or her rights to free speech under the federal First Amendment.

Dig Deeper

Look at this fact sheet about how each state selects its judges. Create a chart about Georgia courts that summarizes the information on the fact sheet.

Which method of campaigning for judges do you think is the most effective? Why?

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