This article about Arizona courts was originally published in the White Mountain Independent Online Edition newspaper.
Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013 5:00 am
By Donna J. Grimsley – Special to the Independent
Our court system is the greatest system in the world. It is helpful to understand the various levels and types of courts. As an overview, the Arizona Courts are comprised of 1) limited jurisdiction courts, also known as justice of the peace and municipal courts; 2) Superior Court, the trial court; and 3) Appellate Courts, consisting of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
This article will focus on the limited jurisdiction courts.
Many incorporated cities or towns have a municipal court, also known as city court or magistrate court. Municipal courts have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes and petty offenses committed in their city or town. They share jurisdiction with justice courts over violations of state law committed within their city or town limits.
Municipal court judges hear misdemeanor criminal traffic cases, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, hit-and-run and reckless driving where no serious injuries occur. They hear civil traffic cases, violations of city ordinances and codes, and issue orders of protection and injunctions prohibiting harassment. They can also issue search warrants.
City charters or ordinances establish the qualifications of these judges. Some cities do not require municipal court judges to be attorneys. City or town councils appoint their judges. Judges serve terms set by the city or town council; their terms must be at least two years.
With justice of the peace courts, each county’s board of supervisors sets the geographical boundaries, known as precincts, of that county’s justice of the peace courts. Generally, these precincts are larger than city or town limits and typically incorporate an entire city or town and pieces of other communities as well.
Justice of the peace courts hear traffic cases and certain criminal and civil cases, including domestic violence and harassment cases. They can issue search warrants. Their civil jurisdiction is limited to cases involving claims less than $10,000.
Justice of the peace courts conduct preliminary hearings on felonies and determine if the charges should be dismissed for lack of probable cause to believe the defendant is guilty, or find probable cause exists and transfer the case to the superior court.
Justice courts have criminal jurisdiction over petty offenses and misdemeanors; assault or battery; less serious offenses such as breaches of peace and committing a willful injury to property; and criminal offenses punishable by fines not more than $2,500, or imprisonment in county jail for not more than six months, or both fine and imprisonment; and felonies for the purpose of issuing warrants and conducting preliminary hearings.
Most justice of the peace precincts have an elected constable. The constable’s duties are to execute, serve and return all processes and legal documents as directed by the court.
A justice of the peace is elected to a four-year term; must be at least 18 years old; must be an Arizona resident; must be a qualified voter in the precinct in which the duties of office will be performed; must read and write English; and need not be an attorney.
Donna J. Grimsley is a judge in Apache County Superior Court.