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Superior Court Overview
General information on the Superior Court of California

Constitutional Guarantees
Overview of Constitutional Guarantees upheld by the Superior Court of California

Layout of a Typical Courtroom
Photos and explanations of typical courtoom layout

Superior Court Overview | top of page | bottom of page

The Sonoma County Superior and Municipal Courts were administratively consolidated in January of 1994. The Judges and Commissioners of the Sonoma County Courts became fully coordinated under one Presiding Judge in January 1997. The Municipal Court was formally dissolved and one unified Superior Court was created in June of 1998. As a result, all of the sitting Municipal Court Judicial Officers were sworn in as Superior Court Judicial Officers. Currently, the Court has 176 employees, including 16 Judges and 4 Commissioners and an annual budget of approximately $19 million, which is funded by the state.

Two Types of Courts

California has two types of courts: trial courts and appellate courts. Trial courts are the Superior and Municipal courts; appellate courts are the Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. In the trial courts, a judge and sometimes a jury hears witnesses’ testimony and other evidence and decides cases on the relevant facts and by applying the relevant law. In the appellate courts, cases are appealed to justices by people who believe that a mistake was made in a case while it was in the trial court.

Trial courts

Before June 1998, California’s trial courts consisted of superior and municipal courts, each with its own jurisdiction and number of judges fixed by the Legislature. Superior courts have trial jurisdiction over all felony cases and all general civil cases involving disputes valued over $25,000. These courts also serve as probate courts, juvenile courts, and family courts and can hear appeals of municipal court decisions. There are 58 superior courts, one in each county. Municipal courts are trial courts below the superior court level. These courts handle misdemeanor and infraction cases as well as civil matters involving claims for $25,000 or less, including small claims cases that do not exceed $5,000.

Municipal courts also play a role in felony cases by presiding over arraignments and preliminary hearings to determine whether there is reasonable and probable cause to hold a defendant for further proceedings in Superior Court.

There were 209 Municipal Courts in California before June 1998. On June 2, 1998, California voters approved Proposition 220, a constitutional amendment that permits the judges in each county to merge their Superior and Municipal Courts into a “unified,” or single, Superior Court if a majority of Superior and Municipal Court judges within the county approves. The goals of court unification are to improve services to the public by consolidating court resources, offering greater flexibility in case assignments, and saving taxpayer dollars. As of June 1999, judges in 53 of California’s 58 counties have voted to unify their trial courts.*

*There are two procedures specified by the California Rules of Court for voting to unify courts. The first involves a unanimous written consent of all superior and municipal court judges in the county. The second involves a 30-day period for voting by the municipal and superior court judges, following submission of an application to “call for a vote” by one or more presiding judges.

Note: The laws and procedures referred to may change.


Constitutional and Legal Background | top of page | bottom of page

YOUR RIGHTS IN COURT

You have rights guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions. These rights include:

The right to be presumed innocent if charged with a crime;
The right to a public and speedy trial by jury if charged with a misdemeanor or a felony;
The right to an attorney at public expense if you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor
and cannot afford an attorney;
The right to defend yourself against all criminal charges;
The right to sue for money owed;
The right to defend yourself against a lawsuit.


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