The state of Alabama courts operate within a unified system, which is broken up into three levels of jurisdiction.
The first level of courts in the state is the courts of limited jurisdiction. This includes municipal, district and probate courts. There are 415 limited jurisdiction courts throughout the state, with more than 480 judges. There are courts of limited jurisdiction in all 67 of Alabama’s counties.
- Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over a municipality and involve offenses such as traffic violations or misdemeanor crimes that take place within a city’s police jurisdiction. Cities are in charge of establishing these courts.
- District Courts hear misdemeanor offenses outside of city police jurisdiction and hold preliminary hearings for some felony cases. District courts also handle civil cases when the monetary amount in question is between $3,000 and $10,000.
- Probate Courts hear matters such as wills, estates, property, mental competency, and adoption.
- Administrative Courts and Board preside over civil litigation where an administrative agency makes findings regarding specified matters, including employment disagreements, government benefits, and other specialized areas.
Circuit Courts form the second level of courts in Alabama and are courts of general jurisdiction. There are 41 circuit courts and 146 circuit judges. Circuit courts have jurisdiction over all felony criminal, have discretion to hear civil cases with amounts in question above $3,000, and have exclusive jurisdiction when the amount is more than $10,000. Cases of limited jurisdiction are typically appealed to the circuit courts.
- District Attorneys – There are 42 district attorneys serving the state of Alabama. These elected officials are the chief prosecutors for their respective judicial circuits. Their main job function is to ensure that suspected criminals be tried and sentenced appropriately. Each judicial circuit has one elected district attorney except for the 10th (Jefferson County), which has two. District attorneys seek to ensure the law is enforced in the courtroom. District attorneys work hard each and every day to keep our state safer by ensuring the law is enforced in the courtroom.
The third and final level of courts is those of appellate jurisdiction. There are three state courts at this level, the Court of Civil Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of Alabama. Courts of appellate jurisdiction typically review legal matters in search of errors made by the lower-level courts. All three of these courts are located in the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery.
- The Court of Civil Appeals –Five judges preside over this court, which has jurisdiction in appeals from civil cases where the amount of money in controversy is $50,000 or less. The court also reviews some cases related to domestic relations and workers’ compensation.
- The Court of Criminal Appeals – This court has five judges and considers all appeals from felony or misdemeanor trials and convictions. Appeals from municipal courts can also occasionally be heard in this court.
- The Supreme Court of Alabama – Nine justices preside over this court, which is the highest in the state of Alabama. The court has the authority to review any decisions reached by Alabama’s lower courts. Any civil matters where the monetary amount in question is more than $50,000 are reviewed by this court. Administrative authority over the Alabama judicial system is held by the Chief Justice of the court.
Federal Courts and Agencies
The federal legal system is parallel and distinct from the state system. The federal courts hear federal cases, while the state courts hear state cases. There are often interactions and overlaps, but the two systems are distinct and sovereign. Typically, federal prosecutions deal with cases investigated by federal law enforcement. State prosecutions are traditionally investigated by state and local law enforcement.