Municipal Courts: What To Know

The judicial system in the United States is made up of several levels, which span from city level legal matters to national level legal matters that take place in the Supreme Court system. In most cases, people deal with legal matters in what are known as municipal courts. These courts are primarily based in jurisdictions that are limited to a specific community, county, municipality, or an entire city. The court system in a large city is a common example of a municipal court. Knowing what to expect from municipal courts is the first part of understanding what to do when dealing with legal matters in a city.

About municipal courts

A municipal court is limited to the jurisdiction where it may operate. The municipal courts have the ability to deal with the citizens and uphold the laws of just one town or city. This means that the municipal court only has the power to handle and conclude legal matters within that district alone. Some municipal courts, however, do overlap with others in neighboring districts, so multiple cases may pass through more than one municipal court.

The municipal court commonly handles cases that generally do not need to be escalated to a higher level of court. Some of the most common cases tried at municipal courts include civil misdemeanors, civil lawsuits, and the perusal of traffic tickets by law enforcement. Other legal matters like building code violations and bereavement cases pass through municipal courts, as well.

What happens in municipal courts?

In a municipal court system, city laws are enforced against those who may have broken them. How these laws are upheld is a similar process to how district courts and federal courts defend similar laws.

A judge of the municipal court will hear cases presented by city prosecutors. Generally, the city prosecutor will argue in defense of the city if the defendant allegedly broke a law. The defendant is allowed to have legal representation in the case of them possibly breaking city law. In most cases, both parties settle in a short amount of time, as the municipal court system tries to find a way to resolve the case without expending time or money. Sometimes, if both sides cannot come to an agreement, the case goes to trial, where the judge will make a final decision based on presented testimonies and evidence.

A municipal court is only permitted to punish those who have committed crimes with a jail sentence of up to one year. Some of the most commonly enforced crimes include marijuana possession, drug paraphernalia possession, trespassing, and driving under the influence. Sentenced crimes are also able to be appealed in a timely manner. In most cases, a sentenced defendant can appeal in up to 14 days after the initial judgment is issued. Not all municipal courts operate in the same way. Some municipal courts are considered to impose judgment on lawbreakers in a harsh way, while others are considered fairer in nature toward issuing judgments.

In order to understand what to expect when summoned by a municipal court, many are encouraged to talk to a qualified legal professional to learn more about what to do.

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