Trial courts include two general jurisdiction courts and three limited jurisdiction courts. The general jurisdiction courts include the Chancery Courts and the Circuit Courts. Courts of limited jurisdiction include the County Courts, the Justice Courts and the Municipal Courts.
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 22 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 21 County Courts and 30 County Court judges. Counties which have a County Court include Adams, Bolivar, Coahoma, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes, Madison, 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 197 judges. Justice Court judges are the only Mississippi judges elected in partisan races. They serve four-year terms.
Drug Courts are special courts which address crimes committed by persons addicted to drugs or alcohol. Drug courts seek to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug treatment and intense supervision with drug testing and frequent court appearances. Drug 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-free and in compliance with all program requirements.
As of July 2017, 42 Drug 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 237 Municipal Courts. 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 21 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. The city of Pearl also has its own municipal Youth Court.