About Texas Courts
In trial courts, witnesses are heard, testimony is received, exhibits are offered into evidence, and a verdict is rendered. The trial court structure in Texas has several different levels, each level handling different types of cases, with some overlap.
For further information on court structure, jurisdiction, judge qualifications, contact information, and maps, see About Texas Courts.
Administrative Judicial Regions
The state is divided into eleven administrative judicial regions. Each region has a presiding judge that is appointed by the Governor to serve a four-year term.
The district courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction of Texas. The geographical area served by each court is established by the Legislature, but each county must be served by at least one district court. In sparsely populated areas of the State, several counties may be served by a single district court, while an urban county may be served by many district courts.
District courts have original jurisdiction in felony criminal cases, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and any matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court. While most district courts try both criminal and civil cases, in the more densely populated counties the courts may specialize in civil, criminal, juvenile, or family law matters.
Constitutional County Courts
The Texas Constitution provides for a county court in each of the 254 counties of the state, though all such courts do not exercise judicial functions. In the more populous counties, the county judge may devote his or her full attention to the administration of county government.
The constitutional county courts have original jurisdiction over all criminal cases involving Class A and Class B misdemeanors, which are the more serious minor offenses. These courts usually have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts, except in counties where county courts at law have been established.
County Courts at Law
Because the Constitution limits each county to a single county court, the Legislature has created statutory county courts at law in more populous counties to aid the single county court in its judicial functions.
The legal jurisdiction of the special county-level trial courts varies considerably and is established by the statute which creates the particular court. The jurisdiction of statutorily-created county courts at law may be concurrent with the jurisdiction of the county and district courts in the county.
The civil jurisdiction of most county courts at law varies but is usually more than that of the justice of the peace courts and less than that of the district courts. County courts at law usually have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts.
Statutory Probate Courts
In the more populated counties, the Legislature has created specialized probate courts to hear probate matters exclusively. Statutory probate courts are located in 10 of the state's 15 largest metropolitan areas and have original and exclusive jurisdiction over their counties' probate matters, guardianship cases, and mental health commitments.
The Texas Constitution requires that each county in the State establish between one and eight justice of the peace precincts, depending upon the population of the county. Also, depending on the population of the precinct, either one or two justice of the peace courts are to be established in each precinct.
Justice of the peace courts have original jurisdiction in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases, which are less serious minor offenses. These courts also have jurisdiction over minor civil matters. A justice of the peace may issue search or arrest warrants, and may serve as the coroner in counties where there is no provision for a medical examiner. These courts also have jurisdiction over small claims matters.
Under its authority to create such other courts as may be necessary, the Texas Legislature has created municipal courts in each of the incorporated cities of the State. The larger cities are served by multiple courts, the number depending upon the population of the city and the needs of the public.
These courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over violations of city ordinances and, within the city limits, have concurrent jurisdiction with justice of the peace courts over Class C misdemeanor criminal cases where the punishment upon conviction is by small fine only. When city ordinances relating to fire safety, zoning, and public health are violated, fines of up to $2,000 may be charged, when authorized by the governing body of the city. Fines of up to $4,000 may be charged for dumping of refuse. Municipal judges may issue search or arrest warrants. These courts do not have jurisdiction in most civil cases but do have limited civil jurisdiction in cases which involve owners of dangerous dogs.