The Illinois Courts System

A three-tiered judiciary comprised of the circuit, appellate, and supreme courts is provided by Article VI, the Judicial Article of the Illinois Constitution of 1970.

The Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court is the highest court in Illinois. Seven justices serve on the supreme court. Three represent the First Appellate Judicial District, which is Cook County. Each of the remaining four justices represent the other four Appellate Judicial Districts. A majority vote of four justices is required to decide a case.

The appellate court usually sends cases to the supreme court. However, when a circuit court imposes a death sentence, the law allows a direct appeal to the supreme court. The supreme court may also pass rules to allow direct appeals in other cases.

The supreme court has the exclusive authority to decide matters that involve legislative redistricting and determining the ability for the governor to serve. The court also has discretionary original jurisdiction in cases involving state revenue and writs of mandamus, prohibition, or habeas corpus.

The Appellate Court

The Illinois Appellate Court hears appeals from circuit court cases. It is divided into five judicial districts. The first judicial district consists of all of Cook County. The rest of the state is divided into the other four judicial districts. Three judges hear an appellate case, and two are required to decide the case.

People may appeal a court’s decision to the appellate court, except for a state’s attorney, who is not allowed to appeal a not guilty verdict. Appeals are based on arguments that the trial court made an error in applying the law. The appellate court affirms a trial court decision if it finds there was no error committed in applying the law or if the error was so minimal that it did not affect the outcome of the trial.

The appellate court may reverse a circuit court decision or remand the case for a new trial if there was a substantive error in applying the law.

The Circuit Court

There are 23 judicial circuits in Illinois. The circuit court, which hears civil and criminal cases, has original jurisdiction in all matters except instances in which the supreme court has original jurisdiction.

There are two types of judges in the circuit court, circuit judges and associate judges. All judges must be licensed attorneys. Circuit judges are elected for a six-year term and must run every six years for retention. The circuit judges elect a chief judge, who provides administrative guidance to the entire circuit. Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges for a four-year term. They are then considered for retention by circuit judges every four years. Associate judges can hear all types of cases except felony cases, which require prior authorization by the supreme court.