The United States’ justice system is guided by a closely linked hierarchical court system, consisting of state and territorial courts that all operate under the auspices of the state and territorial constitutions. States in the U.S. tend to have diverse names and structures, and are free to function in ways that vary from the federal government and other states.
While many states have adopted a judiciary system consisting of three levels, the State of Connecticut’s own judiciary system consists of four courts:
The Supreme Court
True to its name, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the hierarchy of Connecticut’s judiciary system. The decisions handed down by the Connecticut Supreme Court is binding and cannot be overturned by any of the lower courts.
In a way, the Connecticut Supreme Court serves to enforce the doctrine of stare decisis on cases under the common law system. This allows the state to have a uniform and final interpretation of the law. While civil cases do not follow the doctrine of stare decisis, a supreme court’s decision is afforded enough weight that it can set a very strong precedent, making appeals to lower courts futile.
- The Connecticut Supreme Court has a courtroom situated at 231 Capitol Avenue in Hartforrd. The location is important because residents are encouraged to attend the hearings for oral arguments, which are open to the public.
- The Supreme Court maintains a regular schedule on hearing oral arguments for ongoing cases, under schedule consisting of eight two-week terms between the months of September and June.
- Unlike the lower courts that hear testimonies from witnesses, the Supreme Court only handles depositions from the lawyers or legal representatives of all parties involved.
- Addressing fact-related inquires are left to the lower courts. The highest court in Connecticut instead focuses on handing down a final interpretation of the law as it pertains to procedures addressed by the lower courts in prior hearings.
It is also worth noting that the Supreme Court of Connecticut is not the court to pursue if time is an issue, as the court waits until all sides have been given the opportunity to present and argue their case (with each one being alloted 30 mins per oral argument) before deciding on a case.
The Superior Court
Connecticut is one of the states in the U.S. with a Superior Court, which is essentially a state trial court that has the authority to hear and decide on criminal or civil cases. Connecticut’s Superior Court is generally the court that will handle cases that are not specifically designated to be heard on the lower courts.
The CT Superior Court will sometimes handle cases involving:
- Child Dispute and Protection
- Housing Disputes
- Domestic Abuse
- Land Disputes
- Tax and Administrative Appeals
- Miscellaneous cases involving small claims
The Appellate Court
Connecticut’s Appellate Court is intended to address appeals for decisions made by any of the lower courts in the state. While other states have several appellate courts with specialized or limited jurisdiction, Connecticut’s function as both a trial and appellate court that can hear and decide on cases handled prior by other intermediate courts.
The Connecticut Appellate Court has a unique “On Circuit” program that aims to educate the public on the appellate process. This is done through events in which the court selects a location where arguments will be held, while students from the collegiate and high school levels are allowed to observe.
The Probate Court
Most judiciaries in the United States consist of three hierarchical levels. The State of Connecticut is one of the few that has four levels, with the fourth being the Probate Court. Sometimes referred to as a Surrogate Court, it is a court that has jurisdiction over cases related to administration of estates. Connecticut has a system consisting of 54 probate court districts that address the following:
- Trusts and Estates – majority of the Probate’s work involve matters relating to overseeing the division of assets left behind by the deceased. This is usually done in accordance with the person’s last will and testament, but in the absence of a will the Probate court will rely on the Connecticut Law.
- Appointment of Conservatorships – in most cases relating to the management of affairs, an individual is entitled to seek assistance via the appointment of a conservator. There are cases where the individual is physically unable or deemed incapable of choosing a representative, in which case the Probate Court steps in and appoints a conservator.
- Children’s Matters – the Probate Courts also handle sensitive matters involving the guardianship of children. This pertains to everything from the removal of guardianship from parents deemed incapable or unfit, to granting adoptions and overseeing the financial matters on behalf of a minor.
- Intellectual Disabilities – Probate courts also step in on behalf of adults that are no longer able to cre for their own physical health or safety, either due to physical or intellectual disabilities. The court in these cases is empowered to appoint guardianship over the individual. This court appointed guardian is an adult who can be an authorized state official, a relative, or a representative from a private non-profit organization. The limitation of the Probate Court in these matters is that they cannot appoint nursing homes or hospitals as guardians.
- Civil Commitments – in cases where an individual poses serious risk to himself or others, Connecticut’s Probate Court can authorize involuntary commitment without the need for a hearing. In cases where a person’s potential for harm is unverified, the court can authorize the police and some medical personnel to order the person to be examined in a medical facility. This involuntary commitment is effective until the disability is treated and the person is discharged by the medical facility.
Finally, the Probate Courts also have jurisdiction over different miscellaneous matters including legal name changes, the issuance of marriage licenses to people of appropriate age, overseeing public safety during public health emergencies (which gives them the authority to order quarantine and isolation), and even termination of life support.
Affod-a-Bail has offices in most of Connecticut towns. If you or your friend/relative need to be released on a bail, just call us or apply to any office, such as East Haven bail bondsman.