The Oklahoma Court system comprises of an apex tribunal called the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals which is considered the last resort tribunal for all criminal cases, an intermediate appellate court that handles civil matters and 77 district courts. Apart from this the judicial system also includes administrative offices which offer support to all tribunals in the state judicial system.
The two courts of last resort
There are only two states in the country that have two ultimate authority courts which exclusively handle criminal or civil matters; one of these is Oklahoma while the other is its neighbor Texas. While the judicial hierarchy of Oklahoma mimics that of other states in almost all other respects the fact that there are two courts of last resort is a distinctive trait.
This system may lead people to assume that there are two apex courts in the state when in reality only the Supreme Court can be deemed as the highest legal entity in Oklahoma, with the state’s judicial powers vested in it. However, the Supreme Court hears all matters pertaining to civil law that stem from lower courts while the Court of Criminal Appeals solely handles criminal matters. The decision of this tribunal is over and above the verdict of all other courts in the state and is a binding on all parties involved.
The different types of courts in Oklahoma
The judiciary of Oklahoma is divided into 7 categories which include the court of last resort that have been explained above, intermediate appeal tribunal, general jurisdiction courts, limited jurisdiction tribunals, special courts and independent courts which function independently of the Supreme Courts administration.
Because these independent courts do not hear matters pertaining o the general public but are created to handle impeachment of elected officials and the disciplining of judges who are accused of committing illegal acts, these tribunals will not be included in the present discussion.
The Supreme Court:This court not only maintains judicial functions but also administrative handling of the entire judicial system, In terms of hearing appeals that come from lower tribunals, the Supreme Court handles cases that come up from the Court of Civil Appeals.It has discretionary powers, so not all cases make it in front of the bench of the Supreme Court. Also, the apex tribunal has original jurisdiction in matters pertaining to the constitution of the state.
The Court of Criminal Appeals: This tribunal has the final say in all matters criminal and it works much like the Supreme Court with 5 justices appointed to oversee its functioning. When there is ambiguity about who should hear a specific case; the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals, the apex tribunal’s authority supersedes that of the Court of Criminal Appeals. However, in case of matters involving the death penalty, it is always the Court of Appeals that hears the case first.
The intermediate court of appeals: The Court of Civil Appeals was created to handle the bulk of civil case appeals that could not be heard by the Supreme Court given the administrative and judicial functions of the apex tribunal. When a civil matter is brought before the Supreme Court, the apex tribunal has the authority to differ it to any one of the four divisions of the Court of Civil Appeals.
General jurisdiction tribunals: The district courts of Oklahoma are empowered to hear both civil and criminal matters within their geographical zone. The state of Oklahoma is divided into 9 judicial districts and together these administrative divisions have 77 district courts. These tribunals have multiple district judges and at least one Associate District judge, who together administer justice in various cases brought before the tribunal.
Limited jurisdiction tribunals: Municipal courts have limited jurisdiction and are restricted to dealing with petty criminal matters that involve a violation of city or town ordinances. These tribunals do not have the jurisdiction to hear civil cases.
Special courts: The Worker’s Compensation Court and the Court on Tax Review are special tribunals in the state that do not deal with regular criminal or civil cases. The Worker’s Compensation court comprises of ten judges but in the first round, the case is only presented in front of a single judge. If the parties are dissatisfied with the verdict, they can then approach the Court En banc in which a panel of three judges hears all cases. All matters that are appealed from this tribunal go to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The Court on Tax Review only handles matters that involve the unjust levying of taxes by city or county governments. These cases are first sent to the Chief Justice of Oklahoma who then forwards it to the presiding judge of the administrative district in which the claim originated