The central component of Connecticut's court system is Superior Court, which encompasses the trial court duties that in other states may be handled by municipal courts. Superior court handles all matters from juvenile to family, civil and criminal, jury and non-jury trials.
There are 13 districts with 20 superior court locations across the state, designated "'JD" for judicial district (handles more serious offenses) and "'GA" for geographic area courts that handle misdemeanors, felonies, and traffic issues. Small claims cases are heard in "'GA" courts; those are limited to $5,000 or less, including issues like property damage, breach of contract, and nonpayment of rent. Geographical area courts across the state disposed of nearly 178,000 motor vehicle violation cases in fiscal year 2015. Judicial district courts disposed of more than 2,600 criminal cases without trials and 178 through trials in the same period.
A special housing court is convened in large cities such as Waterbury, Hartford, and Bridgeport, but in smaller districts it is part of the regular court session. These handle landlord-tenant disputes including evictions.
Juvenile cases are handled confidentially, but serious crimes committed by someone over the age of 14 are eligible to be handled in adult court. There are 12 juvenile districts in the state where these cases are handled. Statistics show a sharp drop in juvenile offenses over the past several years. In 2010-2011 there were 750-1,000 orders of detention for juveniles each year, with more than 300 classified as serious offenses. In fiscal year 2015 there were just over 600 orders of detention and 80 serious offenses among this age group.
Of nearly 69,000 civil cases before the state's superior court divisions in July 2014, about 3,500 were disposed by trials and 63,000 by other means. Domestic relations comprised 89 percent of the civil caseload in a recent survey, with divorces making up 40 percent of that. Despite this level of activity state budget cuts in mid-2016 resulted in plans to close several courthouses and layoff judicial branch personnel.
Created in 1698, probate courts are located in 54 places across the state. This number was reduced from 117 in 2009 by a reorganization of state courts. Probate court judges are the only judges in Connecticut who are elected. They serve four-year terms. Along with adoptions, termination of parental rights, and custody/guardianship for minors, probate courts handle all matters pertaining to estates of deceased residents, including wills, business dissolution, and taxes. Appeals of probate court decisions are heard in superior court.
Nine judges sit on the state's Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Connecticut's Superior Court, but retired appeals and Supreme Court judges may take part as needed. This court was created in 1983 when voters approved an amendment to the state constitution dividing it from superior court. It hears cases decided in the state's superior court using three-judge panels. Rather than hearing witness testimony, judges review cases to determine if the decision of the lower court was reached in error.
The state Supreme Court is comprised of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. A handful of lower court cases are heard by the state supreme court each term, but the court also has general jurisdiction for the administration of lower courts, for advising legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court on matters of state law, admission to the state bar, and automatic appeals of any death penalty sentences.
The state Supreme Court meets in eight sessions lasting for two weeks each between September and June. The docket averages 200 cases per year.
In 2016 the state's ban on assault weapons was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court by default – the court refused to hear a gun rights group's challenge to the law. Despite saying the ban was a violation of the Second Amendment; the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that Connecticut may have such a law by refusing to hear the challenge. Connecticut enacted the assault weapons ban after the tragic murder of more than 20 young students and teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, CT in 2012.
The state's most violent killers are being resentenced due to the state Supreme Court's decision that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the state constitution. All of Connecticut's 11 death row prisoners are going back to state superior court for sentencing in 2016, revisiting some of the state's most bloody events. Among them is Joshua Komisarjevsky who was convicted of the 2007 Cheshire, Conn. home invasion that resulted in the deaths of a mother and her two daughters.