The Arizona judiciary comprises of several tribunals distributed across five judicial rungs. At the tip of the pyramid, in the apex position is the Supreme Court which is the highest judicial entity in the state. It has administrative responsibility over the other tribunals in Arizona. The Supreme Court bench comprises of 5 justices who are appointed by the governor to six year terms. From these five judges, the chief justice and the vice chief justice are chosen who preside over the court.
The next tribunal in the judicial hierarchy is the Court of Appeals; this tribunal is organized in two geographical divisions with a total of 22 judges serving it. Appeals court judges are also appointed to six year terms. Superior courts, municipal courts, justice and police courts are on the last two rungs of the judicial ladder.
Arizona tribunals can also be divided on the basis of jurisdiction and as such they can be put into three distinct categories:
As the term suggests, this courts can only handle certain types of cases. While they deal with criminal as well as civil matters, the seriousness of the former and the disputed amount of the latter will determine if the case can be heard by a limited jurisdiction tribunal. In AZ, all municipal and justice/city courts have limited jurisdiction. These are non-record courts; this means that court dockets are not maintained for the cases heard by these tribunals.
Municipal courts will only hear cases pertaining to petty offenses such as misdemeanors and city or town ordinance violations. However, the justice of peace courts exercise authority in certain criminal and all civil matters. Generally, a municipal court will issue warrants including search orders and hear DUI and hit and run cases where serious injury was not caused.
In contrast, justice of peace courts will hear matters pertaining to traffic violation fines and civil cases in which the disputed amount is less than $10,000. Justice court judges will also preside on preliminary felony hearings held for the determination of probable cause.
The superior Court of Arizona is a general jurisdiction tribunal which is deemed to be a single judicial entity that maintains locations in each county. Arizona Constitution Title VI-14 confers jurisdiction in the following matters on the Superior Court:
- Cases involving the ownership and possession of moveable and immoveable assets including real property
- Matters the jurisdiction for which is not vested in another tribunal
- Disputes in which the value of the property in question is in excess of $1000
- Misdemeanors which are not otherwise provided for by the criminal code of the state
- Renter eviction
- Insolvency bankruptcy
- Matters of probate
- Other special cases that are not otherwise provided for
The Superior Court also has appellate jurisdiction to deal with matters that are forwarded from the municipal and justice courts. The tribunal also handles supervision of juveniles and adults who are released on probation.
Appellate courts are placed on two judicial levels; the lower position is occupied by the Court of Appeals while the higher of the two tribunals in the Supreme Court of Arizona also known as the last resort court.
The Court of Appeals is an intermediate tribunal which accepts the first level of appeals from the superior courts. The tribunal functions in two divisions; one which convenes in Phoenix and has 16 judges and the other in Tucson which has 6 judges. Cases are heard by a panel of 3 judges and the tribunal hears all matters that are properly appealed from the superior court.