Courts in Connecticut
The supreme court is the court of last resort in Connecticut. The court reviews rulings and cases decided in the lower courts for possible errors in applying the law. Most cases decided by the supreme court were first appealed to the Connecticut Appellate Court. However, some cases may go directly to the supreme court to be decided, such as cases where the superior court determines some portion of the state's Constitution or a state law may be invalid. A conviction on a capital felony is also sent directly to the supreme court on appeal. The supreme court does not generally hear witness testimony. Instead, it reaches decisions based upon a review of court documents and records, as well as briefs and oral arguments from lawyers for the parties involved.
The Connecticut Appellate Court serves as an intermediate appellate court. The court hears appeals and reviews decisions made on cases heard in the state's superior courts. The parties do not present testimony from witnesses. The court reaches decisions by reviewing court documents, records and briefs prepared by attorneys representing the parties in a case. Oral arguments, presented by attorneys who represent the parties, are also considered.
All cases, with the exception of probate matters, are first heard in the superior courts. The superior courts hear cases in four main areas: civil, criminal, family and housing.
Civil cases involve some dispute between two aggravated parties and fall into five basic categories:
- Small claims
- Administrative appeals
- Civil jury
- Civil non-jury (judge hears trial and decides case)
In criminal cases, an individual faces charges, brought by the state, for breaking a law (or laws). The court's criminal division hears cases on felonies, misdemeanors, violations (punishable by a fine only) and infractions (no court appearance needed).
Family cases include: juvenile matters, child support and paternity actions and all other family matters, as well as divorce.
Housing cases are heard in specialized housing courts located in the Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk and Waterbury judicial districts. In other districts, these cases are heard as part of the regular civil docket.
Court of limited jurisdiction
These courts have jurisdiction over: estates, wills and trusts, adoption and similar matters. Connecticut has 117 probate districts. An elected judge presides over each court, however, the position does not require a legal background.
- April 26, 1636: The first judicial proceedings are held in Connecticut at Hartford.
- 1638: The General Court (later known as the General Assembly) created the Particular Court. The court was also called the "Quartet Court" since it was required to meet four times per year.
- 1665: Under a new charter from Charles II, the Particular Court was discontinued and replaced by the Court of Assistants.
- 1666: County courts were created.
- 1686: Justices of the peace were authorized to handle small actions and began to preside over newly created town and borough courts.
- 1698: Probate courts were created to handle matters relating to wills and estates.
- 1711: The Court of Assistants was abolished and replaced with a superior court.
During the time period between 1711 and 1784, the General Assembly was responsible for reviewing decisions made in the lower courts.
- 1784: The Supreme Court of Errors was established as Connecticut's highest appellate court, with the power to review lower court decisions after a writ of error was filed.
- 1818: Connecticut's Constitution was adopted and specified three different government branches. A Supreme Court of Errors and superior court were established. The General Assembly was given the power to establish other lower courts.
- 1855: County courts were abolished and their responsibilities were shifted to the superior court. As caseloads increased, the General Assembly began creating courts of common pleas to meet the demand. Justices of the peace presided over the courts of common pleas.
- 1939: Connecticut's trial justice system was created. Trial justices were given the jurisdiction over criminal matters which was once held by justices of the peace.
- 1941: The General Assembly created a statewide court of common pleas. Judges could also now be reassigned to locations around the state. Previously judges were required to serve only in the county where they were appointed.
- 1941: Although juvenile courts were established in some Connecticut towns in 1921, it was not until this year that a statewide juvenile court was created.
- 1960: Connecticut's General Assembly abolished county government during this year. A statewide circuit court replaced the previous lower courts.
- 1974: The circuit court and court of common pleas were merged into the court of common pleas.
- 1978: The court of common pleas and the juvenile court were consolidated into the superior court on July 1. Judges in the courts of common pleas and juvenile courts were appointed to the superior court. Connecticut became the first state to have a unified court system. The superior court was established as the only trial court in the state.
- 1982: An amendment to the state Constitution created the Appellate Court to reduce the caseload of the state's supreme court.
- 2011: On September 25, 2009, the Connecticut Legislature passed Public Act 09-01, otherwise known as, "An Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Probate Redistricting Commission", which reorganized the state's probate courts and consolidated them into 54 districts. The act also required probate judges to be attorneys and members of the state bar. The changes became effective on January 5, 2011.
The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut is the only federal district court located in the state. Appeals from the district go to the Second Circuit.
- State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "Organization of Connecticut Courts, Supreme Court," accessed April 9, 2014
- Connecticut's Courts, "Probate Court, page 31," accessed April 29, 2014
- State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "History of the Courts," accessed March 18, 2014
- The Probate Courts of Connecticut, "The Probate Court and You," 2010 Scroll to page 3
- Connecticut Judicial Branch website, "Probate Court Redistricting"