Keeping the peace and order in society requires the use of legal action when necessary. While law enforcement officers like the police and sheriff can maintain order through patrols and watches, they need the help of other legal professionals to assist them in this task.
Likewise, the citizens of a city, county, state, or country have the right to pursue legal action of their own as necessary. They can accomplish this action and possibly achieve the outcomes they want by filing cases at their local courthouse.
The exact courthouse where judicial actions are filed and presided over depends on the type of case being pursued. Discover what kinds of courthouses are in operation throughout the U.S. and what purpose these courthouses serve in their communities.
What is a Courthouse?
A courthouse is a building that houses the judicial system for an assigned boundary. It also may serve as the location of city, county, state, or federal government offices. Courthouses are typically established in major cities, county seats, and state capitols. The Supreme Court of the United States is located in Washington, D.C.
Courthouse buildings vary in size and design throughout the U.S. with some being very ornate and spectacular and others being rather plain and ordinary in appearance. It is not uncommon to find courthouse buildings in smaller communities, particularly rural county seats, that are elaborate and very detailed in their design. Many of these buildings are made out of materials like limestone and marble.
In contrast, courthouses in larger cities are often unassuming and in fact blend in with the buildings around them. One would never know that a building is actually a courthouse until they notice the signage on the building’s exterior.
Nonetheless, a courthouse, regardless of the style and size of the building in which it is located, serves an important role for the jurisdiction to which it is assigned. It functions as a site where citizens can pursue legal actions on their own behalf or the behalf of loved ones. It also exists to secure the protection and justice of the public.
As mentioned, the types of cases heard in the typical courthouse can vary according to its level and location. The staff who work within the building itself also vary. Most courthouses operate during regular business hours Monday through Friday from 8:00 in the morning until 4:00 or 5:00 in the evening. It is rare for a courthouse to operate on the weekend.
Types of Courthouses
The U.S. is home to thousands of courthouses located in every state and territory. Most counties in the U.S. have at least one courthouse that serves as the municipal or city court. The municipal court hears minor cases involving offenses like traffic violations or housing disputes. They can also serve as the site of a courthouse wedding if the county lacks a higher state court.
People can also have a civil wedding performed by a justice of the peace at a state courthouse in some instances. If the nearest courthouse to their place of residence is a state court instead of a municipal or city courthouse, they may be allowed to have a justice of the peace wedding there.
The district court is the next highest level after the state court. District courthouses are the sites of murder trials, civil cases that have more than $15,000 at stake, and cases that originate outside of state boundaries but within the jurisdiction or district of that court.
Finally, the Supreme Court of the United States is considered to be the highest legal authority in the country. It is housed in an ornate and old courthouse that dates back to the origination of the country. It is currently staffed by nine Supreme Court justices who all have their own clerk of courts.
The Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS as it is sometimes nicknamed, issues final rulings on cases being appealed from lower courts. These decisions are then rendered into law and cannot be overruled even by Congress or the president. They become legal reference points by which future laws are written and to which future cases at all levels of the court system must conform.
While SCOTUS is staffed by the supreme court justices and their clerks, lower courts likewise employ people who have varying amounts of legal or professional expertise. Most municipal and state courts employ one if not several presiding judges. A municipal or state courthouse judge can hear thousands of cases during any given year.
A courthouse is also governed or maintained by the courthouse clerk. The clerk performs vital functions like keeping records and minutes and communicating with higher courts during appellate processes. The courthouse clerk also keeps the judges in check and even trains them when they are first elected to office.
Because of the increased security risks to courthouses now, a courthouse also may be guarded closely by law enforcement or security guards. They are generally posted at the courthouse exit and entrances and may require people coming into the building to walk through metal detectors or undergo extensive checks of their bags and briefcases before they are allowed to enter a courtroom or office.
The courtroom itself features employees like bailiffs and court reporters. Finally, employees like secretaries, receptionists, and janitorial staff perform important functions that include maintaining the order, integrity, and appearance of the courthouse.
Cases Heard in Courthouses
The type of case heard at a courthouse depends on its nature and the intended result. As noted, municipal courthouses are the locations where cases involving environmental or housing infractions, traffic violations, minor criminal offenses like trespassing or DUI, or debt collections are filed.
Cases involving divorces, child custody, lawsuits, wrongful death or injury, murder, and similar matters must be filed at state courthouses. Most jury trials are heard at the state level as are cases that involve debts or lawsuits totaling more than $15,000. Criminal cases like fraud, assault, stalking, rape, kidnapping, and other offenses are tried in state court as well.
Finally, district, appellate, and federal courts address cases involving appeals, federal crimes, or crimes that occur beyond state boundaries. Federal courts can also challenge state and federal laws as well as presidential executive orders. If the plaintiffs or defendants are not happy with the outcomes of their cases at these levels of the court system, they can request that SCOTUS hear and render a final decision on their cases.
Knowing at what level of court to file your own case can be challenging if you are not familiar or experienced with the legal system in your city, county, state, or judicial district. When your primary concern is where is a courthouse near me, you may get your answer by checking out the websites for your city, county, or state.
You also may need to hire an attorney who can argue at any or all of the courthouses in the judicial boundary in which your legal concern must be addressed. Your lawyer should know the contact information for the court clerks and what judges might be assigned to your case if it makes it to the courtroom. Many lawyers are well-versed in the location and layout as well as the staff in the courthouses in your area.
Courthouses serve important purposes in the city, county, state, or district boundary that they serve. They exist to help maintain the order and peace in society. They also serve as places where people can pursue legal action of their own.
The type of action pursued at a courthouse depends on the court’s function and role in the public. For example, it is not uncommon to have people getting married at the courthouse instead of at a church or other nuptial venue. A courthouse marriage ceremony costs less money and is faster and more convenient, which appeals to many people who want to avoid the expense and hassle of a church ceremony.
Courthouses also exist to hear cases that influence the safety and integrity of society. It is typical for judges to preside over murder, rape, kidnapping, assault, and other criminal trials, for example. They also may preside over civil cases involving code or housing violations, environmental disputes, small claims lawsuits, fraud cases, or other legal actions that permit victims to pursue justice and compensation.
Most courthouses are only open during regular business hours throughout the week. They often do not open earlier than 8:00 in the morning and close no later than 5:00 at night. They rarely are open on the weekends except to take care of administrative tasks.
A variety of staff work in American courthouses. Judges can either be elected or appointed by the state governor or president. Elected judges serve terms spanning six years or longer. Appointed judges serve lifetime commissions.
Courthouse clerks work alongside judges and maintain records and minutes. They are regarded as historians of the courthouses in which they are employed and network closely with higher and lower courts. Other staff members include secretaries, receptionists, bailiffs, security guards or police officers, and janitorial professionals who all maintain the order, safety, and appearance of the courthouses in which they work.