Article VI of the Michigan Constitution which was laid down in 1963 introduced the One Court justice system in the state. Pursuant to this statute, the entire judicial system including the Supreme Court and the numerous appellate, trial and limited jurisdiction tribunals function as one integrated unit. While each performs its distinctive role in the judicial network as prescribed by the legislature of the state, they function as a single legal machinery that upholds the constitution and the laws of the state of Michigan.
The appellate, trial and limited jurisdiction tribunals
As the name suggests, appellate courts while higher up in the legal hierarchy of the state only hear cases from lower courts. This means that these courts seldom if ever hear fresh matters; in fact, the only time a case is directly presented before the appellate court is when it involves the interpretation of the United States constitution or the laws of Michigan State.
In contrast, trial courts have the broadest authority when it comes to tribunals; they not only hear first time cases but also those matters that are sourced from municipal and district courts which are lower down the judicial chain. On the same lines, these courts have the authority to rule in criminal as well as civil matters. However, there is a lower limit on the claim amount and the punitive sentence of the cases that can be heard by the trial courts.
Limited jurisdiction tribunals are those that have the authority to hear only certain types of cases. For instance, juvenile or family courts; these tribunals do not exercise authority in any other type of case except for those that they are designed. So, a juvenile court can only hear matters pertaining to underage offenders deemed to be delinquents while a family court will only deal in cases that pertain to divorces, family and relationships.
The courts of Michigan
At the top of the judicial pyramid in the state is the Supreme court; frequently called the court of last resort, this apex tribunal hears cases that have been brought up from all lower level courts including the Court of Appeals and the trial courts. All cases are forwarded to the Supreme Court by filing a leave of appeals. However, the apex court has the authority to rule on which affidavits to accept and which to deny. When the Supreme Court denies an appeal, the verdict of the lower court in the matter holds valid.
On the next rung of the judiciary is the Court of Appeals. Although the jurisdiction of this appellate tribunal has been laid down by the law of the state, its procedures and practices are governed by the Supreme Court. Unlike the apex tribunal which also handles general administrative tasks, the Court of Appeals only has to take care of judicial matters.
The circuit court come in on the next level of the judicial system; as mentioned earlier, these tribunals have general jurisdiction and hence the broadest authority of all courts in the state. Yet, circuit courts can only hear civil matters in which the claim amount exceeds $25,000 and felony and serious misdemeanor cases when it comes to criminal matters.
Although the state has been divided into judicial circuits along county lines, certain circuits do have two counties in them, in which case the judges handle matters arising from both geographical divisions.
The District court handles all civil matters in which the claim amount is below $25,000 and it also has jurisdiction in the preliminary hearing of criminal matters and misdemeanor cases in which the sentence does not exceed a prison term of one year. A municipal court has similar jurisdiction when it comes to criminal cases but it only accepts civil cases in which the claim amount does not go beyond $1500.
A small claims court is also included in the judicial network and in this tribunal parties waive their right to jury trials and legal representation. Often the sparring sides fight their cases on their own in these courts.
Apart from family and juvenile courts, the limited jurisdiction tribunals in the state also include a probate court which exclusively deals in matters pertaining to wills and estates of the deceased and a court of claims which exclusively hears matters brought against the state of Michigan.