The Alabama state government established the Alabama Court system to oversee the operations of its judiciary. According to Title 6 of the Alabama code, the state judiciary is tasked with adjudicating civil disputes, deciding criminal cases, enforcing judgments, and, in all, administering justice. Official accounts of all judicial proceedings are generated and maintained by the administrative office of each court. For transparency and accountability, Alabama court records are made available to members of the public, provided they are not exempt from public disclosure. Ultimately, the state judicial branch, along with the executive and legislative branches, ensures the optimal functioning of the state, its agencies, and citizenry.
The Alabama court system comprises:
- Courts of Limited Jurisdiction - These include Municipal Courts, Probate Courts, Small Claims Courts, District Courts, and Juvenile Courts. Every county in the state has Probate, District, Small Claims, and Juvenile Courts.
- Courts of General Jurisdiction - These include all Circuits Courts in Alabama. There is a Circuit Court in every county in the state.
- Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction - These include the Appeals Courts (Civil and Criminal) and the State Supreme Court. This also includes federal appellate courts within the state's judicial district.
What is the Alabama Supreme Court?
The Alabama Supreme Court (ASC) is the highest court in the State Of Alabama and is housed in the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama. It is composed of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Supreme Court Justices who are elected into six-year terms.
The ASC has both judicial and administrative responsibilities in the state. It has the authority to review decisions by any lower court in the state. The Alabama supreme court supervises the Unified Judicial System of Alabama and makes rules governing administration, practices, and procedures in Alabama Courts. The Chief Justice functions as the head of the Alabama Judicial System. The ASC can also determine certain legal matters over which no other court has jurisdiction. Appeals from the Alabama Public Service Commission and appeals where the disputed amounts exceed $50,000 are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the ASC. Appeals from the Alabama supreme court can only be heard by an equivalent federal court.
Alabama Trial Court
The trial court system in Alabama consists of the Courts of Limited and General Jurisdiction and the appellate court system consists of the Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is the ranking legal body in the state and has the authority to review decisions by all the lower courts. It also has the authority to determine certain legal matters over which no other court has jurisdiction. The Appellate Courts - Civil and Criminal - review the decisions of the trial courts. There are 41 Circuit Courts, 67 District Courts, 68 Probate Courts, 273 Municipal Courts, two Appeal Courts, and one Supreme Court in Alabama.
All civil and criminal matters are heard in the trial courts, depending on the nature of the cases and the court with the appropriate jurisdiction. Cases with unsatisfactory outcomes are transferred to the appropriate Appeals Court (Civil or Criminal) and may be moved to the Supreme Court, where a final and binding verdict is given. Civil matters where the amount in dispute is less than $3,000 are heard in Small Claims Court. Civil matters for amounts between $3,000 and $10,000, as well as criminal misdemeanor matters, are heard in District Court. Criminal felonies and civil matters where the disputed amount exceeds $10,000 are heard in Circuit Court. While state courts have exclusive jurisdiction over state matters, the federal courts within the state's judicial branch are deferred to where federal matters are concerned.
What are Appeals and Court Limits?
An appeal is a legal process in which a case is reviewed by a higher authority when one of the parties requests a formal change to the final order or judgment. The appeals process begins with filing the Notice of Appeal. The notice of appeal is filed with the Clerk of the trial court within 42 days of the date of the entry of the order or judgment. Civil appeals are heard by the Civil Court of Appeals and criminal appeals are heard by the Criminal Court of Appeals.
The appellant files a brief containing their view of the facts and the legal arguments upon which they seek the reversal of the trial court’s judgment. The respondent is then provided a specified time to file a responding brief. Sometimes the appeals court makes its decision on the basis of the written briefs or they hear oral arguments from both parties before deciding. The Appellate Court does not retry the case. Rather it determines whether errors occurred in the application of the law by the trial court and issues a written brief of its decision.
Alabama Court of Appeals
The Alabama Court of Appeals (ACA) has no juries or witnesses and does not try cases. It reviews the actions and decisions of trial courts by revisiting the records on questions of law and allegations of procedural errors. The ACA was separated into two divisions - Criminal and Civil - in 1969 from the unitary system that had existed since 1911.
The Criminal Court of Appeals consists of five judges who are elected into six-year terms; one of whom is elected as the presiding judge by the court members. The court is held at the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama. The Criminal Court of Appeals hears all appeals of felonies, misdemeanors, and city ordinance violations and all post-conviction writs in criminal cases.
The Civil Court of Appeals also consists of five judges on six-year elected terms. The most senior judge on the bench serves as the presiding judge of the court. The Civil Court of Appeals hears civil matters, including those related to domestic relationships and child custody cases. It also has original appellate jurisdiction over all appeals where the amount disputed is under $50,000. Appeals from state administrative agencies, except the Public Service Commission, in which the judgment was entered in Circuit Court are also heard by this court.
Alabama Circuit Court
Alabama Circuit Courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction in the state, and they hear both civil and criminal cases. There are 41 judicial circuits in Alabama, each with its own court.
Circuit Courts have the authority to hear civil matters in which the disputed amount exceeds $3,000. This authority becomes exclusive if the disputed amount exceeds $10,000. Circuit Courts are trial courts for felonies and some misdemeanors, and lesser included offenses. They also have appellate jurisdiction over certain cases that arise from trial courts of limited jurisdiction.
There are 148 Circuit Court judges divided among the 41 judicial circuits in Alabama. Circuit Court judges are elected to six-year terms, with no limit on the number of terms. However, judges are ineligible for re-election once they have passed the age of 70.
Alabama District Court
Alabama District Courts are the state trial courts of limited jurisdiction, and they hear both civil and criminal cases. There are 67 District Courts spread across the State of Alabama. District Courts hear most misdemeanor cases, some ordinance violations, felony preliminary hearings, and guilty pleas for felonies without the death penalty. District Court will generally hear ordinance violation cases in locations where there are no Municipal Courts. District Courts hear civil cases where the disputed amount is less than $10,000, excluding interests and costs. They have exclusive jurisdiction over small claims cases - cases where the disputed amount is less than $3,000.
There are 98 Court judges in the 67 Districts in Alabama, who are elected to six-year terms. Like all other judges in Alabama, they are restricted from re-election once they have passed 70 years of age.
Alabama Probate Court
Alabama Probate Courts are non-jury trial courts that have complete jurisdiction over probate matters and the administration of estates. They hear cases regarding wills, estates, conservatorships, guardianships, land partition, and name changes. Probate Courts ensure the proper distribution of the assets and debts of deceased persons and adjudicate the validity of wills.
There are 68 Probate Courts and judges in the State of Alabama.
Alabama Municipal Court
Alabama Municipal Courts are locally funded courts established under the Alabama State Code. They hear cases involving violations of municipal ordinances, misdemeanors, traffic, and parking offenses. Cases heard in Alabama Municipal Courts come with fines of no more than $500 and jail time of no more than one year. Municipal Courts do not have jury trials and are presided over by the judge who determines the outcome of the case. Trials are presided over by a locally appointed or selected Municipal Court judge and each court has its own prosecutor. Convictions in Municipal Court can be appealed to the local county Circuit Court. There are 273 Municipal Courts in the State of Alabama.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Alabama
A case number is a unique reference code assigned to each court case when it is opened. It identifies particulars of the case, such as the year and office it was filed and the judicial officer to whom it was assigned. Case numbers are made available to the defendants when the cases are assigned to the judicial officers in charge. Knowledge of a case number is important for the speedy location and retrieval of a case file or record. There may be added charges for record requests that do not include the case number.
The Alabama Court Access portal allows users to find case numbers using defendants’ names as the search criteria. There is a nominal fee of $9.99 for each case detail search report. The case detail report includes basic case information, court action, case status, setting dates, party information, financial history, and a detailed case action summary.
Does Alabama Hold Remote Trials?
The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated that Alabama courts use remote video and audio communications to hold specific criminal and civil case events. One of the provisions of the CARES Act authorizes the court to use video teleconferencing (or audio where the video is unavailable) for specified criminal case events. The consent of the defendant is required for the use of audio and video teleconferencing for the case events. Witness testimonies for depositions and court proceedings can be taken remotely, and workers’ compensation settlement hearings may also be conducted remotely.