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What Is a Lower Court?

Each state or jurisdiction has its own legal system, process, and method of handling issues involving the law. When it comes to the court system, each state has its own hierarchy of courts consisting of several levels that may correspond to the local, state, and national levels of a jurisdiction. A court that is found in the lower rung of the court system is referred to as an inferior or lower court.


A lower court is not only deemed as it is due to its location in the court hierarchy, but is a lower court by virtue of its relationship with the people it serves and the higher courts it answers to. It is common for lower courts to be located on a local scale, thus accessible to everyone within a local county or district. Lower courts operate on this local level most commonly in a trial court capacity. Higher courts often involve more national issues and appellate cases as compared to the case roster of a lower court.


However, there is a distinction among trial courts on a local level in the United States. Trial courts may also be distinguished as a lower court or superior court depending upon the court system of the state wherein the court can be found. Lower courts are often limited to hearing minor cases such as misdemeanors or infractions. Higher courts are given the responsibility of hearing more serious criminal and civil cases as well as appellate cases. Appellate courts’ jurisdiction vary according to the state as well, which establishes to what extent their authority over lower courts exist.

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