The complicated nature of the Texas court system is seen even at the very top. Texas has two supreme courts - the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of Texas. The first is dedicated to criminal matters, while the latter handles only civil cases and cases involving juveniles.
Court of Criminal Appeals
The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest state court for appeals resulting from criminal cases. This court has statewide, final appellate jurisdiction over criminal cases. It also makes rules of post-trial and appellate procedure for criminal cases. The Court is composed of nine members, a presiding judge and eight judges, and holds its sessions throughout the year in Austin, Texas.
Most of the cases heard by this Court are appeals from one of the fourteen intermediate Courts of Appeals. Decisions in criminal cases made by the Courts of Appeals may be subsequently appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Such appeals are made by petition filed either by the state, the defendant, or sometimes both.
The court has the power of discretionary review, meaning it does not have to hear a case if it so chooses. The one exception to this discretionary power is in the area of capital punishment. All cases in which the death penalty has been assigned are automatically directed to the Court of Criminal Appeals from the original trial court, bypassing the Courts of Appeals.
The Supreme Court of Texas
The Supreme Court of Texas has statewide, final appellate jurisdiction in all civil and juvenile cases. Like the State Court of Criminal Appeals, it is composed of a chief justice and eight justices.
The majority of the cases heard by this court are appeals from appellate rulings by the intermediate Courts of Appeals. The Supreme Court of Texas also has the authority to make legal determinations in instances in which no other court has jurisdiction - basically, anything that does not fall under the jurisdictions and responsibilities of the other courts becomes the responsibility of the Supreme Court. It can also issue orders to enforce its jurisdiction as the highest civil court in the state.
The Supreme Court also has many administrative duties. The Supreme Court makes the rules of practice and procedure governing trials and appeals in civil and juvenile cases. These duties are similar to those of the Court of Criminal Appeals. The only difference is the types of cases involved.
But the Supreme Court of Texas has additional administrative responsibilities. These include establishing the rules of administration for the Texas judicial system, as well as the rules of operation of the state Office of Court Administration, the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the State Bar of Texas, and other state agencies in the judicial branch of government.