circuit court | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

At the federal level, a circuit court is the layer of appellate courts situated between the federal district (trial) courts and the Supreme Court.

The term circuit court has different meanings depending on the jurisdiction, with the federal level, state level, and local level each having their own variations. At the federal level, the circuit court is the appellate layer between the district or trial courts and the Supreme Court. Each circuit is composed of multiple districts, with judges appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

These courts hear appeals from district court cases, as well as from certain administrative agencies and specialized courts. They are responsible for reviewing the decisions made in the lower courts, ensuring that they were made in accordance with the law and that the rights of the parties involved were protected. Circuit court judges may also hear cases en banc, meaning that all the judges on the circuit court sit together to hear and decide a case.

At the state and local level, the term can refer to either trial courts or appellate courts, depending on the jurisdiction. In some states, the circuit court is the highest trial court, responsible for hearing civil and criminal cases, while in others, it is a lower court responsible for hearing only certain types of cases. In some jurisdictions, the circuit court also serves as the intermediate appellate court, hearing appeals from lower courts before they reach the state supreme court.

The origin of the term dates back to the common law system, where judges would travel from town to town, holding court sessions in each location on a regular schedule, or “circuit.” This allowed judges to bring the court system to rural areas and ensure that justice was being served throughout the jurisdiction. Today, the term serves as a reminder of the historical roots of the justice system and the importance of providing access to justice for all citizens, regardless of where they live.

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Last Modified: 04/07/2023

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