Understanding the Court System

The Mississippi court system includes eight different types of courts, each with a specific role in the judicial system. The parties in the case, the issue involved, and the amount claimed help determine which court will hear a case, or have jurisdiction.

Youth, or family, court hears cases involving children under the age of 18 on such issues as delinquency, need of supervision, and abuse. This court is not open to the media or public, and its records are sealed. If the case concerns a violent crime, it may be transferred to circuit court, and the defendant tried as an adult.

Municipal court oversees violations of city ordinances, traffic laws, misdemeanor charges, and sometimes preliminary hearings in felony cases. This court has no jury or recorded testimony, and fines or short imprisonments are the typical punishments. A municipal judge may also perform marriages.

Justice court has jurisdiction over civil cases on recovery of debts, damages, or personal property not exceeding $1,000 and misdemeanors that carry sentences of one year or less and/or a fine. The parties have the right to a jury and can appeal the case to county or circuit court.  County court hears civil cases involving amounts of $50,000 or less, criminal misdemeanors, and justice and municipal court appeals.

Chancery court exclusive jurisdiction over specific cases, including divorce, annulment, alimony, child custody, child support, and paternity; wills, estates, and trusts; property matters and certain contract enforcement; and conservatorship and guardianship of minor children and persons of unsound mind. Certain cases offer the right to jury trials. Chancery court may hear county court appeals.

The jurisdiction of circuit court includes all felony cases, civil cases that have damages of more than $200, appeals from justice and county courts, and appeals from county boards of supervisors, municipal authorities, and other tribunals. The parties have the right to a jury trial and to appeal decisions.

The Supreme Court is the state's highest court. It hears appeals from chancery and circuit courts and cases involving public utility rate changes. The Supreme Court also regulates procedures for the state courts.

The Court of Appeals helps ease the Supreme Court caseload by hearing cases assigned by the high court. Its decisions are final with few exceptions. The Supreme Court, however, does hear all appeals concerning death penalties, annexations, bond issues, elections, utility rates, and constitutional challenges to existing statutes.