Illinois Court System

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The state of Illinois has a three tiered judicial system that includes a supreme court, appellate courts and circuit tribunals. The framework of the system is laid down by the Illinois Constitution Article VI; while all courts work under a unified approach, the authority granted to the tribunals on various levels differs significantly.

The Circuit Courts

On the lowest rung of the judiciary, the circuit courts have general jurisdiction, so they can hear all matters except cases in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction. That means that except for matters pertaining to the duties of a state official, a circuit court can preside over all other cases.

As such, these trial courts hear a wide variety of matters; from small claim actions to felonies and from consumer complaints to domestic dispute cases. In the state of Illinois, there are 23 judicial circuits and these have one or more contiguous counties in their jurisdiction; each of the judicial circuits has a trial court.These tribunals have two types of judges, circuit and associate judges. Circuit judges are elected to a six year terms from the county of their residence or the entire judicial circuit. To retain their position, they have to run for election every six years. These elected magistrates then choose a chief judge based on the guidelines of the local court rules. The Chief Justice offers administrative and legal guidance to the entire circuit.

The circuit judges also choose associate magistrates on the basis of merit; these judges serve four year terms and thereafter, the circuit judges consider them for retention. Associate judges preside over civil and small criminal matters like misdemeanor cases. However, felony cases are only heard by circuit judges.The Supreme Court retains the authority to assign the judges of the nineteenth judicial circuit of Illinois (Lake County) and ask them to hear cases in any other county of the state.

The funding for the operations of these circuit tribunals are received from two sources: the state and the county administration. From the state government, financing is allotted for the Mandatory Arbitration program as well as the remuneration of the judges and court reporters. The state also pays for several court service positions while the remainder of the operation cost is funded by county revenues. The judges and their staff work closely with the office of the County Administrator to maintain productivity of the judicial system at the circuit level.

The Appellate Court

The state of Illinois is farther divided in to 5 judicial districts each of which is made up of one or several circuits. For instance, while the First judicial district only comprises of Cook County, in the second district, Lake County along with 5 other circuits are included while the remainder of the state is divided in 3 judicial districts with nearly equal populations.In essence, the Appellate Court of Illinois has 5 chapters. Every defendant has the right to appeal against the verdict of a circuit tribunal in the appellate court except for a representative of the district attorney. The State cannot contest against a not guilty verdict given by the circuit court.

It is imperative to understand that while the appellate court entertains appeals against circuit court verdicts, the dependent’s attorney can only argue on points where an error was made by the lower tribunal in the application of the law. In other words, the re-litigation of the original facts presented before the circuit court is not allowed.

All matters placed before the appellate court are heard by 3 judges of which the majority vote of 2 is considered when ruling on a case. If the defense cannot prove that the circuit tribunal made an error in the actual application of the law, the lower courts verdict will in all likelihood be affirmed. However, in case the appellate court rules in favor of the defendant, the judges may reverse the decision of the circuit court or remand the matter for a new trial.

The Supreme Courts is the highest judicial entity in the state of Illinois and it has original and exclusive jurisdiction. This means that the tribunal not only hears matters about compelling or preventing a state official from performing his duties but also the court chooses the cases that it hears. In matters pertaining to the legislature and the governor’s rights and duties, the Supreme Court holds exclusive jurisdiction. Apart from this the tribunal also has discretionary, original jurisdiction in matters relating to State revenue, prohibition and others.

Cases that are presented before the Supreme Court are generally appeals against the decision of the appellate court but in case of capital punishment, a matter can directly be channeled from the circuit tribunals to the Supreme Court. Seven justices preside over all matters heard by the Supreme Court and the majority vote of 4 is required to decide on a matter.