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The difference between circuit court and district court

You may not have paid much attention to the descriptor of the court named in your summons. The average person likely hasn’t thought about what it means to appear in circuit court versus appearing in district. In most cases, the difference will never matter to many people.

Yet, the different classifications of the court matter. There’s a reason you’re summoned to a circuit court instead of a district court, for example. Each court has their own characteristics and purpose that justify distinguishing between types of courts.

What is district court?

District court is likely the court you’re most familiar with. Cases heard in district court include speeding and other traffic violations, landlord-tenant disputes, and small claims. There are also no jury trials in district courts, meaning that a judge will hear your case.

What is circuit court?

Appearing in circuit isn’t usually a happy occasion. Cases heard in circuit court are often serious, including criminal cases, some civil cases and even juvenile cases. A circuit court also resolves family law issues such as divorce, child support and child custody. While judges exclusively rule on cases in district court, circuit court cases sometimes feature jury trials.

The small but meaningful differences

Navigating the legal landscape of the courts system isn’t something most people keep up on and that’s why people go to school to become lawyers. If you take away something from the information above, it’s that circuit court is for more serious offenses and can feature jury trials unlike a district court trial.

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