A Brief Guide to Florida’s Court Structure

Unless you deal with them every day, it can be incredibly confusing to keep track of the numerous different court systems in this country. There are circuit courts and supreme courts, trial courts and appellate courts, and courts at the local, state, and federal levels. There are a wealth of different courts that, depending on the nature of your case, could at some point be the arbiter of major decisions regarding your life.

Today, we will try to begin to unravel this complex web for you by providing a brief introduction to the basic legal hierarchy in the State of Florida.

Florida once had one of the most confusing state court systems in the country, but has since simplified its system to be generally composed of four distinct courts, each of which we have expanded on below.

County Trial Courts

Florida has 67 counties, each with its own trial court that was established by the state constitution. This is the base level of the Florida judicial hierarchy, and the number of judges for each court is based upon the population of the county. These courts hear cases involving mostly minor offenses, including civil disputes involving less than $15,000, traffic violations, and less serious criminal offenses. Additionally, if your case does not require a jury, it will likely be tried in a county trial court (“bench trial”) before a single judge of the county court.

Circuit Trial Courts

The next tier up in the Florida court hierarchy from the county courts is the circuit courts which are also generally trial courts. Florida’s circuit trial court system is divided into 20 geographic regions, with a circuit court for each region. Any trial situation that is not assigned to the county courts by statute is sent to the circuit courts. This includes a broad range of court cases including civil disputes involving more than $15,000, all felony criminal cases, tax disputes, juvenile cases, estate disputes. Additionally, the circuit courts also hear appeals from the county level.

District Courts of Appeal

Florida’s five district courts of appeal solely hear appeals from the two lower level courts, and do not hold trials. A vast majority of appeals from the circuit and county courts will go to the district courts of appeal, where a multi-judge panel will review the facts and circumstances surrounding a case from the trial courts and correct any harmful errors that may have occurred, such as cases where constitutional rights were somehow violated during the trial. The district courts of appeal represent the final appellate review of a litigated case, generally meaning there is no obligation for a higher appellate court to review the case.

Florida Supreme Court

Located in Tallahassee, this is the highest court in the State of Florida. It is an appellate court comprised of seven justices, five of which must participate in every case (although all seven (7) usually participate in the vast majority of cases) and four of which must agree in order for a decision to be reached. The court is required by the state constitution to review all cases where a death sentence is imposed, where a district court invalidated a state statute or some aspect of the constitution, all bond validations, and certain orders regarding public utilities. The court may also review numerous other cases at their discretion, such as any case regarding interpretation of the constitution, judgements issued by trial courts, and questions issued by the federal courts.

Attorney Laurent spent the summer after his first year in Law School as a judicial intern for Justice Barbara J. Pariente, who still presides on the Florida Supreme Court to this day.  There attorney Laurent was able to conduct extensive legal research, including legal memorandums on petitions for certiorari for the Honorable Barbara J. Pariente.  Attorney Laurent is now a resource for attorneys interested in assessing the likelihood of success on appeal of lower court and administrative decisions.  Attorney Laurent is presently handling appeals in several areas of law including foreclosure law, civil procedure, and family law.

Keep in mind that the above-described court structure generally does not apply for instances when federal law has been violated as there is an entirely separate federal court structure.

If you are embroiled in a tenant-landlord dispute, in need of appellate assistance, or if you’d simply like to learn more about the Florida judicial system, please contact the Laurent Law Office today.

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Written by LaurentLawOffice

LaurentLawOffice

Laurent Law Offices, P.L. is committed to helping renters and landlords alike to achieve a fair and reasonable resolution to any dispute. Attorney Hegel Laurent has been a tenant for the vast majority of his life and he understands the intricacies of Landlord-Tenant law codified in Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes. He received his J.D. from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Law School and he is passionate about representing both those who rent property or those who own rental property.

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