Glossary: The Court System of Texas

arraignment: when a defendant is formally charged and made aware of their rights

capital case: a criminal case in which the death penalty is a possible punishment

civil law: a branch of law that deals with disputes, usually between private individuals over relationships, obligations, and responsibility

complaint: the presentation of a grievance by the plaintiff in a civil case

courts of appeal: the 14 intermediate-level appellate courts that hear appeals from district and county courts to determine whether the decisions of these lower courts followed legal principles and court procedures.

criminal law: the branch of law that regulates the conduct of individuals, defines crimes, and specifies punishments for criminal acts.

defendant: an individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law

district courts: the major trial courts in Texas, which usually have general jurisdiction over a broad range of civil and criminal cases

due process: in the Texas criminal justice system, the state must ensure that every person is treated equally in legal matters

felony: a serious criminal offense, punishable by a prison sentence or a fine; a capital felony is punishable by death or a life sentence

hierarchical: In the Texas court system, cases start in local trial courts, then work their way up to appeals courts.

justice of the peace courts: local trial courts with limited jurisdiction over small claims and very minor criminal misdemeanors

juvenile courts: in Texas, a juvenile is defined as young as 10 years old, and a juvenile can be convicted as an adult as young as 14 years old. Juvenile courts preside in the District Courts

misdemeanor: a minor criminal offense usually punishable by a small fine or short jail sentence

municipal courts: local trial courts with limited jurisdiction over violations of city ordinances and very minor criminal misdemeanors

plaintiff: the party who initiates a lawsuit (also known as an action) before a court in order to seek a legal remedy

plea bargaining: occurs when the defendant and the prosecutor negotiate a deal to avoid having to go to trial

precedent: in common law legal systems, a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.

probate courts: handle wills and estates for deceased persons in Texas’ largest counties

Texas Supreme Court: the highest civil court in Texas; consists of nine justices and has final state appellate authority over civil cases.