How is Minnesota’s court system structured?
Minnesota’s court system is divided into three levels. The District Court level includes the trial courts where both civil and criminal matters are heard. Within the district court level are several specialized courts. These include conciliation court (also referred to as “small- claims court”), probate court (handles cases concerning the disposition of property belonging to deceased persons), mental health court, drug court, family court, and juvenile court. The extent to which such specialty courts are distinct from the district courts depends upon the size of each county.
The other two levels of the state court system include the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota Court of Appeals is a court that hears challenges to district court decisions. The Minnesota Supreme Court hears challenges to the decisions of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and appeals from specialized courts such as the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals and the Tax Court. All first-degree murder convictions and disputes about legislative elections are also reviewed by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The Minnesota State court system maintains a comprehensive website located at www.mncourts.gov.
What other court systems exist?
In addition to the state court system, there is also the federal court system. Federal courts—which include district trial courts, federal courts of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court—hear a variety of cases. These include matters involving federal laws, bankruptcy, civil rights disputes, interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, and lawsuits between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
In addition to these court systems, most of the American Indian tribes in Minnesota now have their own tribal courts that are empowered to consider a variety of legal matters that affect Indian persons who live on or off their reservations, as well as non-Indian persons who may have contact with the reservations or members of the tribes. Each tribal court is somewhat different in its structure and the types of cases it will hear.
What if I am under 18?
The law applies differently to minors than it does to adults.
In all states a person is considered to be an adult at the age of 18– also known as the “age of majority.” At age 18, although you gain new rights, you also have new duties and responsibilities. But one will also be considered an adult in many matters of the law if one is an “emancipated minor.” Once you are no longer considered a minor, the primary limitation that remains on your legal rights is the restriction on the right to consume alcohol.
Among the new rights that become yours at age 18 are:
- the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections
- the right to be legally independent of parental control and the right to marry without parental consent
- the right to enter into a contract as an adult
- the right to make a valid will
You also have new responsibilities, including:
- your parents are no longer required to support you
- you are responsible for all of your actions and, should you be found in violation of the criminal laws, you will be tried as an adult and not treated as a juvenile
- you may sue and be sued by others about contracts you make and upon your actions, whether intentional or negligent, that cause harm to persons or property
- you are eligible for jury duty
What is the juvenile court?
The juvenile court is a special court that is part of the state district court system. This special court hears matters regarding child abuse and neglect, adoptions, terminations of parental rights, truancy, and juvenile delinquency. Until you reach the age of 18, any delinquency matters will be heard by the juvenile court unless the court makes a specific finding to refer your matter to district court. When you reach the age of eighteen, the juvenile court generally loses jurisdiction over you and your legal disputes will be handled in the district court. In the more populous counties of Minnesota, the juvenile courts have their own judges, referees, and administrative staff. In smaller counties, the district court judges also serve as juvenile court judges.