Courts of limited jurisdiction fi nd the relevant facts, identify the appropriate rule(s) of law, and combine the facts and the law to reach a decision. State trial courts do the same, but differ from inferior courts in two key ways. First, they are not governed by the subjectmatter restrictions or the limits on civil damages or criminal penalties that govern courts of limited jurisdiction.
Cases involving signifi cant dollar amounts or major criminal penalties usually begin, therefore, at the trial court level. Second, trial courts are courts of record that keep detailed records of hearings, trials, and other proceedings. These records become important if a trial court decision is appealed. The trial court’s fact-finding function may be handled by the judge or by a jury. Determination of the applicable law, however, is always the judge’s responsibility. In cases pending in trial courts, the parties nearly always are represented by attorneys.
States usually have at least one trial court for each county. It may be called a circuit, superior, district, county, or common pleas court. Most state trial courts can hear a wide range of civil and criminal cases, with little or no subject-matter restriction. They may, however, have civil and criminal divisions. If no court of limited jurisdiction deals with these matters, state trial courts may also contain other divisions such as domestic relations courts or probate courts.