How the Georgia Court System is Structured

All courts in Georgia comprise a unified and (mostly) uniform judicial system. The judicial system is unified in that it employs a streamlined, simplified hierarchy amongst the different classes of courts; and that the judiciary possesses the supervisory and administrative power to oversee its own functions. The judicial system is uniform in that Georgia counties and cities typically maintain the same classes of courts, save some exceptions, within their localities.

Georgia has two appellate courts:

  • The Georgia Supreme Court: The highest court in the State. Its decisions are binding on all other courts in the State as precedents.

  • The Georgia Court of Appeals: The State’s intermediate appellate court. With the exception of the Georgia Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals’ decisions are binding on all other courts in the State as precedents.

Georgia has several classes of trial courts:

  • Superior Courts (All of Georgia’s 159 counties have a Superior Court): Superior Courts of are courts of general trial jurisdiction. Essentially, a Superior Court can hear almost every type of civil or criminal case. Further, the Superior Courts have exclusive trial jurisdiction over felony trials, divorce cases, land title cases, cases seeking equitable relief (e.g., injunctions, declaratory relief, etc.), and cases seeking extraordinary relief (e.g., mandamus, habeas corpus, etc.).  A limited class of cases fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Juvenile Courts or the Probate Courts, and thus cannot be heard in the Superior Courts.

  • State Courts (Georgia’s 70 most populous counties in have a State Court): State Courts are courts of limited trial jurisdiction.  For the most part, the State Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Courts.  This means the State Courts can typically hear the same types of cases as Superior Courts.  There is, however, a big exception to the State Courts’ exercise of concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Courts.  State Courts cannot hear cases where jurisdiction has been exclusively vested in the Superior Courts.

  • Magistrate Courts (All of Georgia’s 159 counties have a Magistrate Court): Magistrate Courts are court of limited trial jurisdiction. Essentially, Magistrate Courts operate as small claims courts in Georgia. Magistrate Courts can adjudicate civil claims that do not exceed $15,000.  Magistrate Courts likewise can hear eviction-related proceedings.

  • Probate Courts (All of Georgia’s 159 counties have a Probate Court): Probate Courts are Courts of limited trial jurisdiction. Probate Courts have the exclusive jurisdiction to probate wills and oversee administration of deceased persons estates. Probate Courts also have the exclusive jurisdiction to appoint, remove, and oversee persons acting as court-appointed fiduciaries (e.g., guardians; conservators) for minors or incapacitated/incompetent adults.

  • Juvenile Courts (each of Georgia’s 159 counties has a Juvenile Court): Juvenile Courts are Courts of limited trial jurisdiction. Juvenile Courts have the exclusive jurisdiction over matters concerning abandoned, abused, or neglected minor children. Juvenile Courts also have exclusive jurisdiction over matters such as delinquent minors, special needs minors needing treatment or commitment, termination of parental rights, and the emancipation of minors.

  • Municipal Courts (Throughout Georgia’s cities and towns): Many of Georgia’s incorporated cities and towns have established Municipal Courts.  Municipal Courts typically have jurisdiction to hear cases involving violations of traffic laws and local city ordinances. By statute, the the Georgia General Assembly has also empowered Municipal Courts to entertain limited types of misdemeanor offenses.

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