New Hampshire Court System

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The modern day judicial system of New Hampshire came about through a legislative change in 1901; till that point, the Supreme Court had both trial and appellate jurisdiction. However, through this amendment, the Superior Court was incorporated into the judicial setup and under this transformation, the Supreme Court was allowed to hold administrative powers over the lower courts and accept appeals against their judgments while the Superior Court was to handle the trial proper.

Today, the judicial hierarchy of NH starts with the Supreme Court in the apex position followed by the Superior Courts which are tribunals with general jurisdiction. The next in line are the District Courts which have limited jurisdictions, the probate tribunals that only handle matters pertaining to inheritance and property and the community level family courts which handle all cases arising from domestic disputes. Here is a brief explanation of what these tribunals do.

The Supreme Court

Based out of Concord, the Supreme Court has administrative authority over every branch of the judicial system. The apex entity is in charge of clarifying state laws and handing federal questions pertaining to them. Furthermore, the admittance of lawyers to practice, disciplinary action against attorneys and judges and the allocation of funds to various judicial functions are all managed by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire.

The apex tribunal comprises of 5 justices and the administrative staff. Typically, cases are heard by three member panels; however, when the matter is particularly important the justices sit en banc (that is all of them together) to decide on the case. Apart from handling appeals from all lower courts, the Supreme Court also offers advisory opinions to the executive and legislative branches of the state.

The Superior Court

These are the trial courts of the state and the only judicial entities which can hold jury trials. Hence, all felonious matters are handled by these tribunals. Superior Courts are located in all 10 counties of NH while Hillsborough has two of these tribunals. When a case is heard by a panel of jurors, their decision has to be unanimous for it to be enforceable.

As far as civil matters go, these can be heard by the jurors or the judge, depending on the choice made by the defense. Generally, Superior Courts handle felony related matters, civil cases where the minimum claim amount is above $1500, family disputes, including those that involve child custody and divorce in areas that do not have a family court and equity cases where monetary relief is not sought.

The District Court

These are community tribunals where the judge decides on the outcome of civil as well as criminal matters. They have limited jurisdiction and have the authority to try certain matters with the Superior Courts. All appeals from these tribunals are generally taken up in the Supreme Court. District Courts can be found at 35 locations in NH and apart from misdemeanor cases, they also perform the pre-trial tasks associated with felonies.

For instance, the issue of NH active warrants and setting bail are both handled by the District Courts. So, petitions for arrest warrants from the police go to this tribunal. However, grand jury indictments are held at the Superior Court. Within the circle of its jurisdiction are matters such as small claims (dispute amount up to $5,000), landlord tenant disputes, juvenile delinquency, violation offenses, and civil cases under $25,000.

The probate courts in the state are designed to provide arbitration in matters concerning wills, inheritance and the commitments of adults to health or senior care establishments. Family Division Courts were added to the assemblage of the judiciary in 2004 through a legislative amendment. They deal with all cases arising from family disputes.