State Appellate Courts

State appellate courts review actions and decisions of lower courts that have been appealed due to questions of law or allegations of due process violations.  State appellate courts include courts of appeals, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Courts of Appeals

The first court of appeals was created by the Texas Constitution of 1876.  The Texas Constitution was amended in 1891 to grant the Texas legislature the power to establish new courts of civil appeals and again in 1980 to rename these courts to “Courts of Appeals” and extend their jurisdiction to include both civil and criminal cases.

Texas has 14 courts of appeals, each of which serves a geographic region encompassing multiple counties and district courts.  Texas courts of appeals hear intermediate appeals from trial courts within their geographic regions.

Map of Texas Courts of Appeals districts

Each court of appeals has at least three justices who serve four-year terms.  Currently, 80 justices serve on state courts of appeals.  The Texas legislature has the authority to increase the number of justices who serve on state courts of appeals when the caseload requires it.

Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court was originally created by the Texas Constitution of 1836.  Currently, it consists of nine justices who serve staggered terms.

The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to issue writs and conduct proceedings for involuntary retirement or removal of judges and statewide, final discretionary appellate jurisdiction in most civil cases and juvenile cases.  For an appealed case to be granted a petition for review, four or more justices must agree to review the case.  Generally, the Supreme Court only grants petitions for review to cases that involve significant legal issues.

The Supreme Court also performs other functions, including:

  • answering questions of state law certified from a U.S. Court of Appeals
  • promulgating rules of civil trial practice and procedure, evidentiary procedure, and appellate procedure
  • promulgating rules of administration to provide for the efficient administration of justice
  • monitoring the caseloads of courts of appeals, transferring cases as appropriate to balance their caseloads
  • assisting with the administration of Basic Civil Legal Services Program funds, which provide basic civil legal services to the indigent, with the assistance of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation
  • supervising the operations of the State Bar of Texas
  • reviewing cases involving attorney discipline upon appeal from the Board of Disciplinary Appeals of the State Bar of Texas

Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (originally named the Court of Appeals) was created by the Texas Constitution of 1876 to relieve the caseload of the Texas Supreme Court.  Currently, it consists of nine justices who serve six-year, staggered terms.

The Court of Criminal Appeals has both mandatory and discretionary statewide, final appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases.  The court’s mandatory appellate jurisdiction applies to cases that resulted in the death penalty and applications for post-conviction habeas corpus relief in felony cases without a death penalty; only the Court of Criminal Appeals may handle these matters.  The court’s discretionary appellate jurisdiction applies to criminal cases being appealed from courts of appeals.  The Court of Criminal Appeals may also review a decision made by a lower state court in a criminal case on its own motion (i.e., without the case being appealed for review).

The Court of Criminal Appeals also performs other functions, including:

  • promulgating rules of criminal trial practice and procedure, evidentiary procedure, and appellate procedure
  • administering public funds and grants to judicial education (i.e., the education of judges, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys who regularly represent indigent defendants, and clerks and other personnel who work in the state’s courts)

County-Level Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction

Constitutional County Courts

The Texas Constitution states that each of the 254 counties in Texas will operate a county constitutional court, each of which will have a constitutional county judge who presides over the constitutional county court in addition to the county commissioners’ court during the office’s four-year term (we’ll come back to county commissioners’ courts when we look at local government later in this course).

Generally, constitutional county courts exercise both original and appellate jurisdiction:

  • concurrent original jurisdiction in civil actions between $200 and $10,000 and cases involving juvenile matters
  • exclusive original jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases (other than those involving official misconduct) with possible fines greater than $500 or a jail sentence of no more than one year
  • general jurisdiction over probate matters (i.e., wills, estates, and guardianship cases)
  • appellate jurisdiction of decisions made by local courts within the county

Thirty-six constitutional county courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the justice of the peace courts in civil law cases.  In counties with at least 1.75 million residents, constitutional county courts may also hear truancy cases.

“In at least seventy-four counties the constitutional county court’s judicial duties have been given, in whole or in part, to statutory county courts” (Womack, n.d.); in these counties, constitutional county courts focus on administrative functions (i.e., running county government).

Statutory County Courts

Statutory county courts, as the name suggests, are created by the Texas legislature.  The first statutory county court was created in 1907.  Currently, we have 249 statutory county courts.

“The . . . jurisdictions of the statutory courts vary greatly from county to county, depending on the decisions of the county” (Womack, n.d.).  Generally, statutory county courts have jurisdiction in civil, criminal, original, and appellate actions prescribed by law for constitutional county courts.  Additionally, these courts have concurrent original jurisdiction over civil matters up to $200,000 and appellate jurisdiction of final rulings and decisions of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission, with some courts having a higher maximum jurisdiction amount.  Ultimately, the actual jurisdiction of a statutory court depends on what is prescribed in statute; as such, the jurisdiction of statutory county courts varies greatly.

Statutory Probate Courts

Statutory probate courts, which are created by the Texas legislature, are limited in scope and solely perform probate matters.  Currently, there are 18 statutory probate courts located in ten different counties.


Jurisdiction refers to a court’s authority to hear a case and render an opinion.  Various types of jurisdiction exist within the federal and state court systems.

Original jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear an initial case.  When a court exercises original jurisdiction, it considers questions of fact and questions of law.  In other words, the court must first determine the facts of the case, or what happened; then, it must determine how the law applies in that particular case.

Appellate jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to review decisions made by lower courts.  This occurs when one of the parties in the case appeals the case, or requests for a higher court to review the legal decision of a lower court.  When a court exercises appellate jurisdiction, it considers questions of law. (i.e., whether the lower court correctly interpreted and applied the appropriate legal provisions in rendering its judgment).  If there are questions about the facts of the case, the appellate court will remand the case, or send the case back to the lower court for further action (in this case, to review the facts).

Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear cases relating to a specific type of claim.  The video below discusses subject matter jurisdiction in more detail, focusing predominantly on federal subject matter jurisdiction.

Regional jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear a case based on where the case originated.  Generally speaking, higher courts have broader regional jurisdiction than intermediate courts, and intermediate courts have broader regional jurisdiction than lower courts within the judicial hierarchy.

Sometimes, due to the type of claim involved in a case, more than one court may exercise overlapping original or appellate jurisdiction.  In this situation, the courts are said to have concurrent jurisdiction.  For example, federal criminal law sometimes overlaps with state criminal law; if someone is accused of committing a crime that falls into this overlap between federal and state criminal law statutes, the case may be initially heard in either a state court or a federal district court.  Exclusive jurisdiction, on the other hand, refers to the sole authority to hear a specific type of case.