In Montana, about 1000 criminal and non criminal cases are heard by various tribunals in the judicial network. When compared to the population of the state, this can be worked out to one legal matter for every three residents. Needless to say, the majority of all cases are encountered by tribunals in larger communities. However, the judiciary follows the same hierarchy regardless of the area. The judicial system of Montana is divided into three levels
Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
These tribunals will only hear certain types of civil and criminal matters. Courts of limited jurisdiction in the state include the Justice of Peace tribunals and the small claims division which is lower in the courts heirarchy.
Justice of Peace Courts: There is one Justice of Peace Tribunal in every county and at least one Justice of Peace. These tribunals are given original jurisdiction in minor misdemeanors and civic and traffic law violation offenses. When it comes to felonies, these courts handle the preliminary examination; hence they are authorized to release Montana active warrants. For civil litigations, the Justice of Peace Courts will only handle disputes in which the amount under consideration does not go upwards of $12,000. The Justice of Peace Court can also be approached for the issue of restraining and protection orders.
Small Claims Court: These courts are below the Justice of Peace tribunals in the judicial hierarchy. They exclusively handle matters pertaining to the recovery of personal property or money. The upper cap for the disputed amount in cases that are heard by small claims courts has been fixed at $7,000.
If a matter filed in the District Court or the Justice of Peace Court meets this requirement, the case can be moved to the Small Claims Court. It is possible for litigants to plead their own cases in this tribunal. Hence, these courts provide an affordable legal approach for anybody who is embroiled in a civil dispute.
The Court of general Jurisdiction
All criminal offenses that amount to felony are tried in the District Courts. These are tribunals with trial jurisdiction, which means that the majority of all criminal and civil matters are heard by these judicial entities. District Courts can also accept appeals from all lower tribunals; these are heard de novo (as new). These courts also have the authority to issue writs in matters appropriate to their jurisdiction.
Appeals from district level tribunals are handled by the Supreme Court of Montana. District Courts often share concurrent jurisdiction with lower tribunals in matters that do not amount to felonies. Typically, these tribunals will hear:
- All felony related cases
- All probate matters
- Civil cases where the amount under dispute exceeds $12,000
- Cases in equity
- Misdemeanor charges that are not otherwise provided for
- Disputes between citizens and state organizations
- Matters that pertain to actions and proceedings not otherwise provided for
The Appellate Court of MT
Montana Statutes only provide for one appellate level tribunal which is the Supreme Court of the state. Deemed the administrator of the judicial network in its capacity as the apex entity, the Supreme Court not only hears appeals from the District Courts but also has original jurisdiction to hear writs of habeas corpus, interpret state laws. The apex body also oversees the working of the judiciary, admits judges and attorneys to practice and initiates disciplinary action against them, where needed. The Supreme Court comprises of a Chief Justice and four associate justices; however, this number can be increased to six, if need be.