The judicial system of Missouri is divided into three levels that include the trial tribunals, known as the circuit courts; the intermediate appellate courts known as the Court of Appeals which functions across three regional divisions and the State Supreme Court which is the apex judicial body. The circuit tribunals are the primary trial courts and they have general jurisdiction in criminal as well as civil matters. These tribunals are housed across 45 regional circuits in the state.
General jurisdiction courts
Circuit courts have the authority to preside over all matters criminal as well as civil, so whether a case pertains to a petty or heinous crime or the issue of a MO arrest warrant, this is the tribunal that will be approached. Similarly, regardless of the disputed amount or the value of the asset, all civil matters are also taken to the circuit courts. Cases that are appealed from this tribunal go to the Court of Appeals.
Each circuit court is further bifurcated into several divisions which hear specific cases. For instance, the circuit and the associate circuit tribunals that primarily handle criminal and civil matters, small claims and municipal courts that have the power to hear criminal matters up to a certain felony and misdemeanor class, family, juvenile and probate courts. Various legislative acts and court rules have led to the creation of these specialized chapters of the circuit court to handle specific legal matters.
The circuit tribunals are the only trial courts that have original jurisdiction in civil and municipal ordinance related matters. The circuit courts across the state are served by over 135 judges who are appointed to 6 years terms. These judges are popularly elected in most judicial districts but in some areas such as Kansas City and St Louis they are selected on a nonpartisan basis. When the magistrates preside over municipal divisions they are elected and paid locally.
Intermediate Appellate Tribunals
The Court of Appeals works in three regional districts; the southern, the eastern and the western. All parties who are in any way dissatisfied with the verdict delivered by circuit tribunals can approach the Court of Appeals. Matters that are taken to the intermediate appellate court are heard by a bench of three judges. The Court of Appeals has the power to hear all appeals forwarded from the circuit courts except for certain matters which directly go to the Supreme Court.
Served by 32 judges across all 3 judicial districts, the Court of Appeals assumed its present structure by a constitutional amendment passed in 1970. All judges of the intermediate appeals court serve 12 year terms and they are elected by the same process as the judges of the Supreme Court.
The MO Supreme Court
The highest judicial entity in the state, the Supreme Court has supervisory authority over all tribunals in Missouri and it adopts and implements the rules for procedure and practice in these courts. Pursuant to the state constitution, despite having discretionary jurisdiction, certain cases are sent to the Supreme Court as a matter of right.
In most other cases, a matter will only be heard by the Supreme Court if the transfer of the case is accepted following a verdict given by the Court of Appeals. Examples of cases that are directly transferred to the apex court include legal matters of general interest, matters that involve a conflict between appellate opinions or two judicial districts.
Cases that go to the Supreme Court are heard en banc by all the seven judges that serve the apex tribunal. These justices are elected to 12 year terms. Their names are recommended by a nonpartisan commission of the judiciary that proposes three nominees and from this list the judge is chosen by the governor. After 12 months in office the appointment is ratified by voters on a nonpartisan ballot.