Definition of lower court
A lower court is a court from which an appeal may be taken. In relation to an appeal from one court to another, the lower court is the court whose decision is being reviewed, which may be the original trial court or an appellate court lower in rank than the superior court which is hearing the appeal.
In an absolute sense, a lower court is always the trial court; where an appellate court is describing the actions under review from the lower court, it is referring to the court that examined the evidence and testimony directly and made rulings upon it, rather than any intermediate appellate courts. However, a court that functions as a trial court in some instances may still be above another court. Relative to other trial courts, a lower court is a court of limited jurisdiction, especially one that is limited to hearing minor offenses, or civil actions involving a limited amount, as distinct from a superior court.
In the United States, most states have two levels of trial courts, and two levels of appellate courts. The jurisdiction of the lower trial court in such jurisdictions is typically restricted to hearing minor claims and trying minor offenses, while the higher court may hear claims without an upper limit on the amount in controversy, and may try all crimes. The higher trial court may also have some power of appellate review over the lower. In Virginia, for example, the lowest level of court is the Virginia General District Court, which can hear claims of up to US$15,000, and can try misdemeanors. Above that court is a second level of trial courts, the Virginia Circuit Court, which may hear claims in excess of US$5,000 and may try certain types of felony cases. The General District Courts do not have jury trials at all, but appeals may be taken from a General District Court to the Circuit Court of that jurisdiction, and the appellant may receive a new trial with a jury.
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