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Pennsylvania Courts and Cases
Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas
The trial courts of Pennsylvania. Major civil and criminal cases are heard in these courts. They are organized into 60 judicial districts. Most districts follow the geographic boundaries of counties, but seven of the districts are comprised of two counties. Each district has from one to 93 judges and has a president judge and a court administrator. Responsible for: appeals from the minor courts, appeals not exclusively assigned to another court, matters involving children and families
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
The highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the nation and has administrative authority over the entire Pennsylvania court system. It receives about 2,500 civil and criminal appeals each year, but chooses to hear only those of statewide importance or that require clarification of the law. The Supreme Court can also take control of any case in Pennsylvania when it believes the issue is of immediate public importance. This is known as King's Bench power or extraordinary jurisdiction. Responsible for: hearing discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court, hearing direct appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas, reviewing death penalty cases, and taking control of any pending case in Pennsylvania, if necessary.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
Established in 1895 and is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. often the final arbiter of legal disputes. The Supreme Court may grant a petition to review a decision of the Superior Court, but most petitions are denied and the ruling of the Superior Court stands. Cases are usually heard by panels of three judges sitting in Philadelphia, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, but may also be heard en banc by nine judges. The Superior Court often travels to locations throughout Pennsylvania to hear cases. responsible for appeals in criminal and most civil cases from the Courts of Common Pleas and appeals on matters involving children and families
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Established in 1968 and is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. primarily responsible for legal matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth. Cases are generally heard by panels of three judges in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, although, on occasion, they may choose to hold court in other locations. Cases may also be heard by a single judge or by en banc panels of seven judges. Responsible for original civil actions brought by and against the Commonwealth and appeals from decisions made by state agencies and the Courts of Common Pleas.
Minor Courts of Pennsylvania
The first level of Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System and presided over by magisterial district, municipal and traffic court judges. MDJs and traffic court judges do not have to be lawyers, but they are required to pass a qualifying exam. Philadelphia Municipal Court judges do have to be lawyers. In Philadelphia, the minor courts are made up of a Municipal Court and Traffic Court. Each court has its own elected judges. In Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh Municipal Court is staffed by Allegheny County magisterial district judges and the complement is included in the total of 535 MDJs. Responsible for: non-jury criminal and civil cases, traffic cases, whether serious criminal cases go to the Court of Common Pleas, preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings, setting and accepting bail, except in murder or voluntary manslaughter cases
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