Mississippi has a two-tier appellate court system that reviews decisions of law and fact made by the trial courts. The Mississippi Supreme Court is the court of last resort among state courts. Decisions of the Chancery, Circuit and County Courts and of the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Appeals which go directly to the Supreme Court include annexations, bond issues, constitutionality challenges, death penalty cases, disciplinary matters involving attorneys and judges, election contests, certified questions from federal court, utility rates, cases of first impression and issues of broad public interest.
Nine Supreme Court justices are elected from three districts. Non-partisan elections are staggered so that not all positions are up for election at once. Supreme Court justices serve eight-year terms.
Each Supreme Court justice participates in deciding appeals from the entire state. Decisions are by a majority vote of the court.
The Court of Appeals hears cases assigned by the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals is an error correction court. It hears and decides appeals on issues in which the law is already settled, but the facts are in dispute. The Supreme Court may review Court of Appeals decisions. If the Supreme Court declines review, the decision of the Court of Appeals stands.
The Mississippi Legislature created the Court of Appeals to speed appeals and relieve a backlog of cases before the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals began hearing cases in 1995.
Ten Court of Appeals judges are elected from five districts. Non-partisan elections are staggered so that not all positions are up for election at one time. Court of Appeals judges serve eight-year terms. Court of Appeals judges hear cases from all over the state.
Circuit Courts hear felony criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits. Circuit Courts hear appeals from County, Justice and Municipal courts and from administrative boards and commissions such as the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
There are 23 Circuit Court districts and 57 Circuit Court judges. The number of Circuit Judges per district ranges from one to four. Circuit Court judges are selected in non-partisan elections to serve four-year terms.
Trials are heard with a 12-member jury and usually one or two alternate jurors. A judge may preside without a jury if the dispute is a question of law rather than fact.
Chancery Courts have jurisdiction over disputes in matters involving equity; domestic matters including adoptions, custody disputes and divorces; guardianships; sanity hearings; wills; and challenges to constitutionality of state laws. Land records are filed in Chancery Court.
Chancery Courts have jurisdiction over juvenile matters in counties which have no County Court. The chancellor may appoint a lawyer in private practice to sit as a youth court referee to hear juvenile matters such as delinquency, abuse and neglect.
Trials are typically heard by a chancellor without a jury, although state law allows parties to request a jury in Chancery Court.
There are 20 Chancery Court districts and 52 Chancery Court judges. The number of chancery judges per district ranges from one to four. Chancery Court judges are selected in non-partisan elections to serve four-year terms.
County Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over eminent domain proceedings and juvenile matters, among other things. In counties which have a County Court, a County Court judge also serves as the Youth Court judge. County Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit and Chancery Courts in some civil matters. The jurisdictional limit of County Courts is up to $200,000. County Courts may handle non-capital felony cases transferred from Circuit Court. County Court judges may issue search warrants, set bond and preside over preliminary hearings. County Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with Justice Courts in all matters, civil and criminal.
Mississippi has 24 County Courts and 34 County Court judges. Counties which have a County Court include Adams, Bolivar, Coahoma, DeSoto, Forrest, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Jones, Lafayette, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes, Madison, Oktibbeha, Pearl River, Pike, Rankin, Warren, Washington and Yazoo.
County Court judges serve four-year terms. Elections are non-partisan.
Justice Courts have jurisdiction over small claims civil cases involving amounts of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and any traffic offense that occurs outside a municipality. Justice Court judges may conduct bond hearings and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and may issue search warrants.
There are 82 Justice Courts with 198 judges. Justice Court judges are the only Mississippi judges elected in partisan races. They serve four-year terms.
Drug Intervention Courts are special courts which address crimes committed by persons addicted to drugs or alcohol, with mental health issues, or who are military veterans. Intervention courts seek to rehabilitate offenders through treatment for substance abuse, mental health problems and special matters affecting veterans. Programs include intense supervision with drug testing and frequent court appearances. Intervention courts help participants develop skills to support themselves and their families. Intervention courts offer the incentive of a chance to remain out of jail and be employed, and the sanction of a jail sentence if participants fail to remain drug and alcohol free.
As of November 2023, 41 Intervention Courts were in operation in Mississippi.
Municipal courts have jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes, municipal ordinances and city traffic violations. Municipal judges may conduct initial appearances in which defendants are advised of the charges being filed, as well as bond hearings and preliminary hearings.
There are 239 Municipal Courts. Also, a few municipal judges serve multiple jurisdictions. Most municipalities have one municipal judge, although a few jurisdictions have several. Most municipal judges are appointed by governing bodies of municipalities. Terms of office vary.
The Youth Courts deal with matters involving abuse and neglect of juveniles, as well as offenses committed by juveniles. Young people who have not reached the age of 18 may be subject to the Youth Court, although there are some exceptions. Some offenses which would be treated as crimes if committed by adults are known as delinquent acts when they involve juveniles.
In the 24 counties which have a County Court, those judges also serve as Youth Court judges. In counties which do not have a County Court, the Chancery Judge may hear Youth Court matters, or the Chancery Judge may appoint a lawyer to act in a judicial capacity as Youth Court Referee.