The Nebraska Court System consists of special courts, County Courts, Court of Appeals and a Supreme Court. County Courts are courts of original jurisdiction in most criminal and civil cases, except for those which fall under the jurisdiction of a special court. The Court of Appeals is the appellate court which hears appeals from lower courts, and the Nebraska Supreme Court is the court of last resort for appeals of some lower court decisions.
Nebraska County Courts are located in each county of the state, and exercise jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases; civil cases with claims of up to $53,000; small claims; probate; preliminary hearings for felonies; traffic cases and juvenile cases in most counties. Juvenile cases are heard in a separate special Juvenile Court in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties.
When a County Court hears preliminary arguments in a felony case, it is strictly to determine whether there is enough evidence to take the case to court. If there is, it is sent to the corresponding District Court for proceedings.
Nebraska County Courts have small claims divisions which hear only small claims cases. This allows a time efficient and less expensive way to resolve these types of disputes without clogging the judicial system. Most of these cases involve claims of owed money, personal property and property damage.
Juvenile Courts in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties hear all juvenile cases involving delinquent or neglected children. In other counties, these cases are directed to the corresponding County Court. These courts also exercise jurisdiction over domestic cases involving the care and custody of minors.
Nebraska also operates a Workers' Compensation Court comprised of 7 judges that exercise jurisdiction over the entire state. Judges travel to hearings regarding claims for benefits and enforcing the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act.
Nebraska's District Courts hear primarily felony cases and civil cases with claims of more than $53,000. These are also the appellate courts for decisions of county court cases. These appeals are decided after reviewing court recorded documents and evidence from the original trial.
The state's Court of Appeals was created in 1990 and consists of six appointed judges. Cases from lower courts are almost always heard by the Court of Appeals, unless they involve the death penalty or involve a question of constitutionality. If a defendant or plaintiff is not satisfied with the decision made by the Court of Appeals, they may petition the Supreme Court to hear it.
There are a total of seven justices serving on the Nebraska Supreme Court, which serves as an appellate court for all death penalty cases, those which involve any question of constitutionality or any life imprisonment sentence. Other cases may be heard by the Supreme Court if it decides to grant a petition for further review.
One of the most memorable cases originating in Nebraska was that of Charles Starkweather. Only 19 years old at the time, Starkweather murdered a gas station attendant in 1957. He then talked his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, into going on a spree with him in 1958 and killing a total of ten people. Starkweather was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. Fugate was originally sentenced to life imprisonment, but was paroled in 1976.