In this article, we will provide an overview of how the court system throughout the state of Florida works. Although you can read an extraordinarily in depth examination of Floridian courts at the Florida Supreme Court homepage at http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/system2.shtml, we will provide an overview distilled of just the information that is most likely to be of benefit to normal citizens of Florida.
The highest court in the state of Florida is the Florida Supreme Court. Composed of a total of seven Justices, at least five Justices must be involved in every decision for a case to come to conclusion, and at least four of them must come to a consensus. Florida Supreme Court Justices must be a citizen of Florida, and must have been practicing law for at least ten years. The citizens of Florida elect Florida Supreme Court Judges.
The Supreme Court of Florida
The Supreme Court of Florida handles many different kinds of cases, including the reviewing of final orders of the imposition of death sentences, district court decisions that declare either State statutes or provisions of the State Constitution invalid, bond validations, and certain orders of the Public Service Commission. The Court may also use discretionary review of any decision made by any lower court when either party that was involved has appealed that decision. The Supreme Court is also able to issue extraordinary writs, which although used only rarely, are used to secure the release of an individual whose incarceration was deemed unlawful, or a writ of prohibition, which blocks lower courts from certain actions, and writs of mandamus, in which the Court can compel a state employee to complete an action which they have refused by are legally required to do.
The District Courts of Appeal of Florida
Immediately below the Supreme Court of Florida are the District Courts of Appeal. The Florida Supreme Court hears only a tiny fraction of all of the court cases that are appealed, and the District Courts of Appeal take on the vast majority of these cases. Staffed by panels of three judges, the District Courts of Appeal can either decide to uphold the ruling of a lower court, or they can overturn that decision on Constitutional or other legal grounds. As with the Supreme Court, District Courts of Appeal judges must be citizens of Florida, and must have served within the legal profession for no less than six years.
By law, the District Courts of Appeal are capable of hearing appeals from the final judgments of all state agencies, including those of the executive branch of Florida government. As with the Supreme Court of Florida, the District Courts of Appeal can also issue extraordinary writs in extraordinary circumstances to ensure that Florida law is upheld.
If the result of the appeal to these courts is found to be inadequate by either involved party, they can appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Florida, but no guarantee is made that this higher court will hear the appeal case.
The Circuit Courts of Florida
The majority of criminal cases are heard by the Circuit Courts of Florida, and in these trials, a single judge sits. Circuit courts have a general trial jurisdiction over matters that are not assigned by specific statute to county courts, and they are also capable of hearing appeals from lower courts, such as County courts.
Some of the specific cases which Circuit Courts are entitled to hear initially include civil disputes of more than $15,000, issues that deal with the estates of minors, cases that relate directly to juveniles, the criminal prosecution of any and all felonies, tax disputes, boundary disputes, and even requests for injunctions by the court in order to prevent individuals from acting unlawfully.
Circuit Courts, as with the above courts, are also able to issue extraordinary writs.
The County Courts
Finally, the lowest of the courts in Florida, a County Court exists in every one of Florida’s 67 counties. Elected by the county, county court judges must have served the Florida Bar for at least five years. However, if a county has either 40,000 persons or less as total population, then applicants need only to be a member of the Florida Bar.
County courts are able to hear any and all civil disputes that involve sums of less than $15,000. Generally, a single judge sits in judgment in county courts, and they generally deal with citizenry disputes like traffic offenses, minor criminal issues like misdemeanors, and occasionally, other financial disputes.