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Kentucky Judicial System

by Kelly B.

Kentucky Judicial System, Judicial System

Kentucky Judicial System and Court System: How Does it Work?

The Kentucky Judicial System consists of the State’s own Judiciary as well as four Federal Courts. Primarily a state-funded system, the salaries of everyone working within Kentucky’s legal structure is provided for by the State. The State of Kentucky has a four-tiered judicial system headed at the top by the Supreme Court. Following the Supreme Court in this hierarchy is the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the Circuit courts and then the Family Courts.

In addition to this, a constitutional amendment made in 2002 made provisions for the creation of Family Courts.

What is the four-tiered Judicial System in Kentucky like?

Most cases in the State of Kentucky are held by the lower level courts, such as the Circuit, District and Family Courts. The higher one goes up the Judicial ladder, the more the cases become appeals. Although the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain areas, the lower level courts have a general authority and can try most civil and criminal cases.

Kentucky Judicial System

  • Supreme Court: The Supreme Court of Kentucky is the highest court of authority within the State's judicial structure and is seen as a last resort for appeals. It also has the exclusive jurisdiction to handle certain cases, such as those where a lower court has given a verdict of a death penalty, life imprisonment or time in prison extending more than twenty years. Under such situations, the attorney can even bypass the Court of Appeals to appeal at the Supreme Court directly. The Supreme Court consists of seven judges who have been selected from the seven appellate districts. They are brought in for terms of eight years. Cases before the Supreme Court have not tried again, but instead written briefs and oral discussions are presented to see whether the original verdict was indeed incorrect. The Supreme Court also makes rules and provisions regarding the general conduct and behavior of judges and attorneys.
  • Court of Appeals: Most cases to this judicial branch comes as an appeal from lower courts. Not all cases can be appealed, however, and this body does not oversee some criminal cases or cases involving divorce. However, when it comes to divorce, custody rights and property rights may be heard by the Court of Appeals. A record is viewed of the first trial, and the attorneys discuss the legal issues at hand before a verdict is handed down. The Court of Appeals consists of fourteen judges – two each selected from the seven appellate districts. Judges form panels of three to decide cases, and the decision of the majority forms the verdict.
Judicial System
  • Circuit Courts: With general jurisdiction, these courts hear civil cases of amounts more than $5000, misdemeanors and felonies, cases involving land disputes as well as probates that are being contested. Circuit Courts are the highest level of the Trial courts which all oversee matters of general jurisdiction, and can make provisions for injunctions as well as issue writs of prohibition and mandamus.
  • Family Courts: A court that primarily focuses on family issues; one judge oversees matters relating to families. The Family Courts can monitor cases about divorce, child custody, domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect and other cases involving family matters. As the family courts have been created exclusively to look into cases involving families, there is no overlap in court time with civil or criminal cases, which are heard by other judicial courts like the Circuit court. Essentially a division of Circuit Courts, and therefore employs judges who have the same skills and qualifications as those working in the Circuit Courts.

Kentucky's judicial system seeks to protect the rights and liberties of the people within the Stat to uphold the Constitution and guarantee that law is preserved in the State.


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