North Dakota Judicial System

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The North Dakota Judicial System comprises the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court, general jurisdiction tribunals, and municipal courts. Together these judicial entities offer the residents of the state fair and equal access to justice. The provisions for the establishment of the various tribunals and their distinct powers have been laid down in the state’s constitution.

The Supreme Court

Rightly considered to be at the helm of the judicial network, the Supreme Court exerts ultimate appellate jurisdiction in the state along with administrative authority over all the lower tribunals. It is made up of 5 justices who are elected to ten year terms through nonpartisan elections. The Chief Justice is chosen from among them and serves a five year term.

He is the representative of the judicial branch of the state government, and as such, he presides over all state functions and conferences. Among the two responsibilities of the Supreme Court is the handling of appeals of tribunals below the apex body in the judicial hierarchy. Since the Supreme Court also has discretionary powers, not all appeals are taken to this tribunal. The apex body is also in charge of ensuring the efficient and effective functioning of all non-federal courts in the state.

The Court of Appeals

This is the intermediate appellate court in the state, and as such most appeals from the District Tribunals are handled by the Court of Appeals. However, it has no say in the cases that get assigned to it. Originally all appeals are taken to the Supreme Court, which assigns some of them to the Court of Appeals.

The appellate tribunal handles both criminal as well as civil appeals. Also, it plays the role of an intermediary in cases involving two state agencies or a resident of ND and a government entity. Three judges are appointed to the Court of Appeals; they are chosen from among retired and active judges from the district tribunals, attorneys, and retired justices of the Supreme Court.

The District Court

These are tribunals of general jurisdiction. They have the original authority to handle all criminal and civil matters in the state. So, these tribunals hear cases ranging from felonies to misdemeanors and even preliminary proceedings such as those held for the issue of active warrants from ND. The district courts also have general jurisdiction when it comes to civil cases. Hence, they can handle civil litigations without heeding any restrictions of an upper limit imposed on the disputed amount.

Every county in North Dakota has its own district tribunal. However, only one District Judge is appointed per judicial jurisdiction, of which there are seven. Apart from criminal and civil matters, district tribunals also preside in matters pertaining to juvenile delinquency and family disputes. Judges of the district courts are appointed to six year terms, and they are elected through non-partisan elections.

Apart from the judge, every branch of a district court will also have its own administrative assistant or county clerk. This judicial personnel is in charge of maintaining court dockets. So, the agency is frequently approached for inquiries on arrest records.

The Municipal Court

As its name suggests, this tribunal has jurisdiction that is limited to matters pertaining to the violation of municipal ordinances and most traffic laws. The judges of municipal courts work part-time and are elected to four year terms. There can be several municipal courts in a judicial district. Appeals from municipal courts are heard de novo in the District Courts.

Last Updated: February 17, 2023