The Mississippi Supreme Court is the State’s highest court. It is located in Jackson, Mississippi. There are three Supreme Court Districts, and each elects three (3) Mississippi Supreme Court justices; thus, there are a total of nine (9) justices. Each justice is elected for an eight (8) year term, and the elections are staggered to provide continuity for the court.
The Mississippi Supreme Court hears appeals from Mississippi’s trial courts: the Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts, and, under limited circumstances, the County Courts. The Mississippi Supreme Court decides appeals on death penalty cases, utility rate cases, annexations, bond issues, contested elections, statues declared to be unconstitutional in a lower court, attorney discipline cases, judicial performance matters, certified questions from a federal court, fundamental or urgent issues of broad public importance, substantial constitutional questions as to statute/ordinance/court rule/administrative rule, and issues where there is a conflict or inconsistency in court decisions.
The Mississippi Court of Appeals is an intermediate court which hears appeals as assigned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals has ten judges, and two judges are appointed from each Mississippi Congressional District. The judge serves an eight (8) year term, and the terms are staggered for continuity. The Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court appoints the Chief Judge of the Mississippi Court of Appeals.
There are twenty-two (22) Circuit Courts in Mississippi and fifty-seven (57) Circuit Court judges that have jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters for which other courts do not have exclusive jurisdiction. The number of judges per district ranges from one (1) to four (4). The judges are selected in non-partisan elections to serve terms of four (4) years.
Circuit Courts hear felony criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits. Appeals from County Courts, Justice Courts, and Municipal Courts are heard in Circuit Court. Additionally, appeals from administrative boards and commissions, such as the Worker’s Compensation Commission and Mississippi Department of Employment Security, are heard in Circuit Court. Trials are heard by a twelve (12) person jury, including one (1) to two (2) alternates. A bench trail, trial without a jury, may be conducted if there is a question of law rather than fact.
There are twenty (20) Chancery Courts in Mississippi. The judges in Chancery Court are called chancellors. Chancellors are elected in non-partisan races for a term of four (4) years. The Chancery Court is a court of equity, and has jurisdiction over divorce, alimony, probate, guardianship, and sanity. In counties with no County Court the Chancery Court has exclusive jurisdiction over juvenile matters, abuse and neglect and delinquency cases. Senior chancellors often appoint a Youth Court Referee, an attorney appointed by the judge, to hear cases and recommend orders in juvenile matters. Similarly, some senior chancellors appoint a Family Master to assist with other types of cases if the docket is crowded enough to warrant the appointment. The Chancery Court’s jurisdiction over equity matters which involve less than $75,000 is concurrent with County Courts. Most contested cases in Chancery Court are bench trials, meaning that there is no jury.
There are Mississippi County Courts in twenty-two (22) Mississippi counties. Not every county in Mississippi has a county court. County Court judges are elected for four (4) year terms in non-partisan races. County Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving eminent domain, partition of personal property, unlawful entry and detainer, and juvenile matters, including abuse and neglect and delinquency cases. Additionally, it can handle non-capital felony cases which are transferred by the Circuit Court.
In the twenty-two (22) counties which have a Mississippi County Court there is also a Mississippi Youth Court. The City of Pearl, Mississippi also has a municipal Youth Court. The Youth Court handles cases involving juveniles, including abuse and neglect and delinquent (criminal) offenses committed by juveniles, although there are some exceptions. Juveniles who have not attained the age of eighteen (18) years may be the subject of Youth Court, except in certain cases. Counties which have no County Court handle these types of cases within Chancery Court.
Mississippi Justice Court judges are elected in partisan elections, whereby the candidate selects a party or runs as an independent, for a term of four (4) years. There are eighty-two (82) Justice Courts with one hundred ninety-seven (197) judges. Unique to Justice Court, and unlike the other courts, the judge does not have to be an attorney to seek the elected position of judge, as the law only requires a high school diploma. Each county is divided into justice court districts, and the number of judges is determined by the respective county’s population. Justice Courts have jurisdiction in all civil cases involving a claim of $3,500 or less. Additionally, the court conducts preliminary hearings for matters committed inside the county, but outside of the city limits. The Justice Court has concurrent jurisdiction with Circuit Court over misdemeanor criminal matters, crimes where the punishment does not exceed a sentence of one (1) year in jail and/or a fine.
Mississippi Municipal Courts, commonly referred to as city courts, are courts within a municipality. There are two hundred and thirty-seven (237) Municipal Courts in Mississippi. Most municipalities have one municipal judge, although some jurisdictions have more than one. Municipal judges are generally appointed by the governing body of the municipality, and terms of service vary. The Municipal Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes, those with a sentence of less than one (1) year and/or fine. In addition, it addresses municipal ordinances and city traffic violations. It also conducts initial appearances, including bond hearings and preliminary hearings, and advises defendants of felony charges.
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