The Texas judicial system features five layers of courts and a bifurcated appellate system that separates criminal and civil appeals at its highest level. Article 5 of the Texas Constitution governs its structure.
The lowest court is the Justice of the Peace Court, or JP court, which handles criminal misdemeanors "punishable by fine only" and civil matters where the "amount in controversy is $10,000 or less." The legislature has also extended the juridisction of JP courts to hear cases involving eviction, foreclosures, and liens against personal property that fall under the $10,000 cap.
Municipal courts also share jurisdiction with JP courts in misdemeanor cases, and have sole jurisdiction on cases involving city ordinances. They also preside over cases relating to public safety.
County courts handle appeals from JP and municipal courts. In some counties — Bexar, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Galveston, Harris, Hidalgo, Tarrant, and Travis — county courts hear probate cases. The county courts can hear both civil and criminal matters, though some counties create separate courts for each.
District courts are the trial courts at the state level. They hear felony cases, land title cases, and election contest cases. In some counties, district courts can hear family law and probate matters. Fourteen appellate courts — in Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Texarkana, Amarillo, El Paso, Beaumont, Waco, Eastland, Tyler, and Corpus Christi — hear appeals from the district courts.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the state's highest criminal court. It hears all appeals of death penalty cases as well as criminal cases decided at the 14 mid-level appellate courts in the state. The court has eight justices and one presiding justice who are elected to six-year terms.
The Texas Supreme Court is the highest appellate court for civil litigation in Texas. Located in Austin, the panel consists of a chief justice and eight justices who are elected statewide to staggered six-year terms. The governor also has the authority to appoint justices temporarily to fill vacancies. Appointed justices, who must be confirmed by the Texas Senate, may serve out the unexpired term. The court also has authority in many statewide legal matters in addition to litigation, according to its Web site: "By statute the Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas. Tex. Gov't Code § 81.011. The Court is also the sole authority for licensing attorneys in Texas and appoints the members of the Board of Law Examiners which administers the Texas bar examination. Tex. Gov't Code §§ 82.00, 82.004. The Court promulgates theTexas Rules of Civil Procedure, the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Texas Rules of Evidence and other rules and standards."