The Texas trial court system consists of District Courts, Criminal District Court, Constitutional County Courts, County Courts at Law, Statutory Probate Courts, Justice Courts, and Municipal Courts.
The Texas trial court system has four broad categories of trial courts known as District Courts, County Courts, Justice Courts and Municipal Courts. District Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, but typically only handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. County Courts, Justice Courts and Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of cases. Due to the complexity of the distribution of jurisdiction between Texas trial courts, jurisdiction over cases can vary greatly from court to court.
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Texas District CourtsDistrict Courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases, and typically handle cases beyond the jurisdiction of other courts.
In sparsely populated areas, a single District Court may serve several counties. In densely populated areas, a single county may be served by several District Courts. A District Court in a densely populated area may specialize in a certain type of cases such as civil, criminal, juvenile, or family. The fact that a court specializes in a certain type of case may or may not be reflected in its name; for example, a court that specializes in family law cases may or may not be named a Family District Court. Specialization by a District Court does not limit its general jurisdiction as granted by the Texas Constitution.
Civil cases heard by District Courts include divorce, most disputes over title to land, requests for enforcement of liens on land, election disputes, slander, defamation, certain civil cases brought by the State and general civil claims beyond the jurisdiction of other courts.
Specific types of civil cases handled by a District Court may include motor vehicle (including personal injury, property damage or wrongful death), personal injury, property damage or wrongful death, workers compensation, tax disputes, eminent domain and condemnation, contracts, child support cases involving other states, divorce, annulment, adoption, name change, termination of parental rights, child protection cases, judicial consent for minors, voluntary legitimation, protection orders, juvenile delinquency, children in need of supervision, probate matters, wills, trusts, mental health cases, guardianships, and habeas corpus.
District Courts may also handle contested probate cases, domestic violence or sexual assault protective orders, and cases requesting injunctive relief. Some District Courts share jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases generally handled by Constitutional County Courts or County Courts at Law.
Criminal cases heard by District Courts include felonies, lesser-included offenses and certain types of misdemeanors, including official misconduct.
Some District Courts may be referred to as Criminal District Courts, which generally means that the District Court is exercising jurisdiction primarily over criminal cases but retains general jurisdiction over all types of cases.
Texas Criminal District CourtThirteen Texas courts are named Criminal District Courts. They specialize in criminal cases and share jurisdiction with County Courts at Law, but most retain general jurisdiction according to the Texas Constitution.
Only one Criminal District Court, in Jefferson County, has had its jurisdiction limited by the Texas Legislature to criminal, divorce, dependent and delinquent children, adoption, and habeas corpus proceedings. The other twelve Criminal District Courts have been instructed to give preference to criminal cases, although they still retain general jurisdiction.
Criminal cases heard by Criminal District Court may be similar to the types of criminal cases heard by County Courts at Law, including preliminary hearings for all types of criminal cases and trials for most misdemeanors.
Some District Courts may be referred to as Criminal District Courts, but it is a reference to a court primarily handling criminal cases in a densely populated area.
Texas Constitutional County CourtsThe jurisdiction exercised by a Constitutional County Court may vary significantly from court to court. In most counties, the Constitutional County Court shares jurisdiction with Justice Courts in civil cases where the amount in controversy is between $200 and $10,000, and with District Courts in cases where the amount in controversy is between $500 and $5,000.
Constitutional County Courts have original jurisdiction over probate cases in most counties, although contested probate cases may be transferred to District Court. In counties with large metropolitan areas, Statutory Probate Courts have original jurisdition over probate cases.
Criminal cases heard by Constitutional County Courts include misdemeanors punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or by a jail sentence of not more than one year. Constitutional County Courts also have jurisdiction over juvenile matters in most counties. Constitutional County Courts may exercise exclusive jurisdiction over some misdemeanors and may share jurisdiction over certain types of cases with Justice Courts, other County Courts and District Courts.
Constitutional County Courts may also handle domestic violence or sexual assault protective orders.
Constitutional County Courts also handle administrative duties for county government through a County Commissioners Court, which only has authority related to the governance of the county and is not a trial court. The County Judge presides over the Commissioners Court and has judicial responsibilities in most counties.
In counties with large populations and greater administrative needs, the Legislature created County Courts at Law and Statutory Probate Courts to handle certain types of civil and criminal cases within Constitutional County Court jurisdiction. In some counties, the County Judge and Commissioners Court may have no judicial duties.
Texas County Courts at LawCounty Courts at Law may also be referred to as Statutory County Courts, County Criminal Courts, County Criminal Courts at Law, or County Civil Courts at Law. Some Statutory County Courts will have names that suggest a specialization in a certain type of case, such as civil or criminal cases. However, a Statutory County Court may handle additional types of cases in addition to its primary specialization.
The types of cases handled by County Courts at Law vary by court, and depend on the jurisdiction conferred upon each specific court by the Legislature. County Court at Law jurisdiction may include some or all of the types of cases within the jurisdiction of Constitutional County Courts.
Criminal cases heard by County Courts at Law include misdemeanors, including exclusive jurisdiction over some misdemeanors that do not have a potential penalty of incarceration. Some County Courts at Law may have jurisdiction over felonies. County Courts at Law may also handle violations of health or safety ordinances.
Civil cases heard by County Courts at Law include general civil claims for less than $100,000 and more than $500, and cases involving eminent domain or workers compensation. County Courts at Law may also handle wills, trusts, mental health proceedings, guardianships, divorce, child custody, child support, juvenile matters and domestic violence or sexual assault protective orders.
Statutory Probate Courts exercise jurisdiction that is generally different than the jurisdiction of County Courts at Law, although some County Courts at Law handle some probate cases.
County Courts at Law may share jurisdiction with District Courts, Constitutional County Courts, and Statutory Probate Courts.
Texas Statutory Probate CourtsStatutory Probate Courts only exist in counties with large metropolitan areas; in most counties, the Constitutional County Court has original probate jurisdiction. Where they exist, Statutory Probate Courts have original jurisdiction over most probate matters, although some County Courts at Law handle some probate cases.
Cases heard by Statutory Probate Courts include the probate of wills, the administration of estates, guardianships, mental health proceedings and some civil cases related to the administration of estates.
Statutory Probate Courts may share some jurisdiction over probate matters with District Courts and other County Courts.
Texas Justice CourtsJustice Courts may be referred to as "Justice of the Peace Courts." Justice Courts have jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases, but jurisdiction may vary from court to court.
Criminal cases heard by Justice Courts include preliminary hearings, some traffic misdemeanors and some misdemeanors without potential penalties of incarceration.
Civil cases heard by Justice Courts include general civil claims within financial limits, small claims, forcible entry and detainer, foreclosures of mortgages and enforcement of some liens on personal property.
Some Justice Courts may share some jurisdiction with Constitutional County Courts and County Courts at Law. Every county has at least one Justice Court, but there may be several in a particular county.
Texas Municipal CourtsMunicipal Courts have jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases. Municipal Court jurisdiction may vary from court to court.
Criminal cases heard by a Municipal Court may include municipal ordinance violations, felony preliminary hearings, some misdemeanors and some cases related to forfeitures and final judgments of bail bonds or personal bonds. Municipal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over most violations of city ordinances, and may share jurisdiction over misdemeanors with Justice Courts.
Civil cases heard by Municipal Courts are generally limited to some cases involving the ownership of dangerous dogs. A Municipal Court may exercise jurisdiction over other types of civil cases under certain circumstances.
If a Municipal Court is created by local law, it may be a court of record and may exercise additional jurisdiction over additional ordinance violations, civil cases and criminal matters. Municipal Courts of record may share additional jurisdiction with District Courts or County Courts over the enforcement of health, safety or nuisance abatement ordinances.
Each incorporated city in Texas has at least one Municipal Court. Some cities or towns will create a Municipal Court under local laws instead of having a Municipal Court created by the Texas Legislature.
Texas Court NotesThe Texas Office of Court Administration supports two types of Specialty Courts: Child Support Courts, which expedite child support establishment and enforcement cases and paternity cases; and Child Protection Courts, which handle child abuse and neglect cases. These courts are staffed by Associate Judges appointed by the presiding judge of each administrative judicial region.
Many Texas courts have local Specialty Court or Problem Solving Court programs that provide treatment and social services in lieu of incarceration for some non-violent offenders with substance abuse or mental health problems. Types of programs include Drug Courts, DWI Courts, Mental Health Courts, Veterans Courts, Reentry Courts, Co-Occurring Disorder Courts, and Prostitution Courts. These "courts" are actually special programs of courts with criminal jurisdiction, including District Courts, Criminal District Courts, Constitutional County Courts, and County Courts at Law.
Where to find court cases in TexasThe chart below gives general information on the types of cases heard in each type of court in Texas.