What’s the Difference Between a District Court and a Circuit Court?
There are two types of state courts in Michigan where trials are held. These are district court and circuit courts. These courts are two separate entities, and knowing the differences can help you navigate the court system.
A district court has several functions. First, district courts are where misdemeanors are dealt with. A misdemeanor could be handled in the circuit court, but there must be a felony allegation to get there.
Common misdemeanors include drunk driving (operating while intoxicated), traffic cases such as driving on a suspended license, and assault and battery. District courts are generally more likely to have treatment courts than circuit courts. Treatment courts include sobriety court, veterans court, mental health court, and more.
District courts handle the early stages of felony cases. A defendant will be arraigned on a felony case in district court. Early pre-trial conferences called probable cause conference will be held there. Finally, the preliminary examination for felonies will be held in the district court. If the case is to proceed on a felony, then the case will go to the circuit court.
The district courts also have several other functions. Civil infraction formal hearings, such as traffic tickets and building code violations are held in district court. Landlord-tenant cases are there too. In addition, district court oversee towing and appeal cases (when cities tow your car).
District courts will adjudicate civil cases where the amount of money in controversy is less than $25,000.00.
On the criminal side of things, circuit courts are where felonies are adjudicated. There can be no felony trials in district courts, just preliminary examinations. District courts can take pleas on felony cases. However, sentencing on the felony can only be from a circuit court judge.
Circuit courts adjudicate civil claims where the amount is over $25,000. There are usually larger personal injury cases, such as no-fault insurance suits and medical malpractice claims.
Circuit courts also oversee family law cases, probate cases, and personal protection orders.
Juvenile and neglect / abuse proceedings are held by the circuit court.
Each county has on circuit court, but could have many district courts. For example, in Washtenaw County, there is the circuit court in downtown Ann Arbor. Washtenaw County also has the
- 15th District Court in Ann Arbor
- 14B District Court in Ypsilanti Township
- 14A-1 District Court in Pittsfield Township
- 14A-2 District Court in Ypsilanti
- 14A-3 District Court in Chelsea
- 14A-4 District Court in Saline
Larger counties such as Wayne or Oakland have even more district courts. Smaller counties, such as in Jackson, only have on district court. It just depends on the population of the county. A bigger county might even need to split up their circuit courts into separate buildings. For example, Wayne county has separate facilities for criminal, juvenile, and civil courts.
A criminal defense lawyer will generally split time between district courts and circuit courts.
Sam Bernstein is a Lawyer focusing on Criminal Defense in Ann Arbor.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.