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Indiana Trial Courts: Types of Courts

Quick Facts About Indiana Trial Courts

All counties have circuit courts

Many counties have superior courts

Marion County is the only county with distinct small claims courts

St. Joseph County is the only county with a specialized probate court, which also has juvenile jurisdiction.

Trial courts are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning they have the power to hear any civil or criminal case. Following are descriptions of each type of court found in the Indiana trial court system:

Circuit Courts
Circuit courts are the only trial courts mentioned in the Indiana Constitution, but the Constitution did not create circuit courts. The 1851 Constitution granted the General Assembly the power to create circuit courts. The General Assembly divided Indiana into circuits, based on county lines. Each county in Indiana has at least one circuit court. Indiana has 92 counties, and 90 of these counties comprise their own circuit, with their own circuit court. The remaining two small counties (Ohio and Dearborn Counties) have been combined to form one circuit.

When Indiana first became a state, circuit courts were the only courts in each county. Therefore, circuit courts traditionally heard ALL civil and criminal cases. Today, circuit courts continue to have unlimited trial jurisdiction, EXCEPT when exclusive or concurrent (shared) jurisdiction is conferred upon other courts.

Jurisdiction of Indiana Trial Courts

Circuit Courts. Unlimited trial jurisdiction in all cases, except when exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction is conferred upon other courts.

Appellate jurisdiction over appeals from city and town courts.

Superior Courts. Trial jurisdiction and organization varies from county to county.

Appellate jurisdiction over appeals from city and town courts.

City/Town Courts. Jurisdiction varies depending upon the size of the city

In counties without superior courts, the circuit courts in addition to all other cases, also handle small claims cases, such as civil disputes involving less than $6,000 and minor offenses, such as misdemeanors, ordinance violations, and Class D felonies. Class D felonies are the lowest level (least serious) of felony charges. Circuit courts also have appellate jurisdiction over appeals from city and town courts.

Superior Courts
As local needs grew and more trial courts became necessary, the Indiana General Assembly created additional courts called superior courts. The majority of Indiana trial courts are superior courts and almost all Indiana counties have superior courts in addition to their circuit court.

For the most part, superior courts have general jurisdiction, so they can hear ALL civil and criminal cases. Superior courts are also charged with establishing small claims and minor offense divisions.

City/Town Courts

City and town courts may be created by local ordinance (local law). Currently there are forty-seven city courts and twenty-eight town courts in Indiana. Plainfield, Avon, Carmel, and Jamestown are just a few examples of cities and towns that have city/town courts. City and town courts handle minor offenses such as violations of city ordinances (laws), misdemeanors, and infractions. These courts commonly handle traffic matters. City and town courts are not courts of record, so appeals from city and town courts go to the circuit or superior courts and are decided as if they have never been to court before. Did you know that with some exceptions, the city and town court judges are not required to be attorneys?

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