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Organization of the Courts
 


Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the state's highest court. It consists of the Chief Justice and six associate justices. In addition, justices who are eligible and who have not yet attained the age of 70 may elect to take senior status and remain as members of the court.
 
A panel of five justices hears and decides each case. On occasion, the Chief Justice summons the court to sit en banc as a full court of seven, instead of a panel of five, to hear particularly important cases.

The Supreme Court reviews decisions made in the Superior Court to determine if any errors of law have been committed. It also reviews selected decisions of the Appellate Court.

Generally, the Supreme Court does not hear witnesses or receive evidence. It decides each case on:
  • the record of lower court proceedings;
  • briefs, which are used by counsel to convey to the court the essential points of each party's case; and,
  • oral argument based on the content of the briefs.

State law specifies which types of appeals may be brought directly to the Supreme Court from the Superior Court, thereby bypassing the Appellate Court. These cases include: decisions where the Superior Court has found a provision of the state constitution or a state statute invalid and convictions of capital felonies. All other appeals are brought to the Appellate Court.

The Supreme Court may transfer to itself any matter filed in the Appellate Court, and may agree to review decisions of the Appellate Court through a process called certification. Except for any matter brought under its original jurisdiction, as defined by the State Constitution, the Supreme Court may transfer any matter pending before it to the Appellate Court.

 

Appellate Court History of the Appellate Court - PDF
The Appellate Court, like the Supreme Court, reviews decisions made in the Superior Court to determine if errors of law have been committed.

There are nine Appellate Court judges, one of whom is designated by the Chief Justice to be Chief Judge. In addition, judges who are eligible and who have not attained the age of 70 may elect to take senior status and remain as members of the court.

Generally, three judges hear and decide each case, although the court may also sit en banc, which means that the entire membership of the court participates in the decision.

Like the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court does not hear witnesses, but renders its decision based upon the record, briefs and oral argument.



Superior Court
The Superior Court hears all legal controversies except those over which the Probate Court has exclusive jurisdiction. Probate Court matters may be appealed to the Superior Court.

The state is divided into 13 judicial districts, 20 geographical areas and 12 juvenile districts. In general, major criminal cases, civil matters and family cases not involving juveniles are heard at judicial district court locations. Other civil and criminal matters are heard at geographical area locations. Cases involving juveniles are heard at juvenile court locations.

The Superior Court has four principal trial divisions: civil, criminal, family and housing.

  • Civil Division
    A civil case is usually a matter in which one party sues another to protect civil, personal or property rights. Examples of typical civil cases include landlord-tenant disputes, automobile or personal accidents, product or professional liability suits and contract disputes. In most civil cases, the accusing party (plaintiff) seeks to recover money damages from another party (defendant). Cases may be decided by the judge or by a jury, depending on the nature of the claim and the preference of the parties.
  • Criminal Division
    A criminal case is one in which a person (defendant) is accused of breaking the law. The two sides in a criminal case are the state, represented by a state's attorney (because crimes are considered acts that violate the rights of the entire state), and the defendant. Crimes (felonies and misdemeanors), violations and infractions are heard in the Criminal Division.
  • Housing Division
    Cases involving housing are heard in special housing sessions in the Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk and Waterbury judicial districts. In all other judicial districts, these cases are part of the regular civil docket.
  • Family Division
    The Family Division is responsible for the just and timely resolution of family relations matters and juvenile matters. Examples of family relations matters include: dissolution of marriage, child custody, relief from abuse and family support payments. Juvenile matters include: delinquency, child abuse and neglect, and termination of parental rights.

Probate Court
In addition to the state-operated courts, Connecticut has probate courts, which have jurisdiction over the estates of deceased persons, testamentary trusts, adoptions, conservators, commitment of the mentally ill, guardians of the persons, and estates of minors.

Each probate court has one judge, who is elected to a four-year term by the electors of the probate district. Probate judges need not be attorneys. They are paid for their services from court fees.

 

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