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.
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.
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)