Third Judicial Circuit Court

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals is a federal-level appellate court that sits below the U.S. Supreme Court in the judicial branch of American government. The court was created in 1891 and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Third Judicial Circuit Court Structure and Function

The 3rd Circuit court is one of 12 regional and one special federal appeals courts. It has jurisdiction over districts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands. The special Federal Circuit Court of Appeals hears certain cases involving trade, patents, and similar issues.

There are 14 judges on the 3rd Circuit bench, having grown gradually from the two originally appointed when the court was created. In federal appeals courts, judges hear cases and render decisions as the jury system is not used. The judges are referred to as Title III because their positions were created by that portion of the Constitution. Federal judges are appointed by the President, approved by Congress and may occupy their position on the court for life. Magistrate judges assist the circuit judges but their terms may vary.

At the federal level the circuit or appellate courts have jurisdiction over the 94 U.S. District Courts that are within their regions. The 3rd Circuit has jurisdiction over five district court regions including three in Pennsylvania, one in New Jersey, one in Delaware and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each region has a bankruptcy court except for the Virgin Islands. Cases that are decided by one of the federal district courts and appealed to the 3rd Circuit may go to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Supreme Court justices seek it out or if a party to the case successfully petitions the Supreme Court to review the circuit court’s decision.

Cases heard in federal district court are both civil and criminal, whether deciding guilt or innocence on felony charges, those in which penalties exceed $75,000, or “diversity” cases involving residents from more than one state or country (such as class action lawsuits). Litigants may decide to waive a jury trial and have the case decided solely by a judge. If a party disagrees with a district court decision he may appeal it to the circuit court with jurisdiction.

Third Judicial Circuit Court Caseload

Statistics for the 3rd Circuit Court show over 3,800 cases filed annually for the past several years. About 2,000 cases are held over to the next year’s sessions and 3,500 terminated for various reasons. Each judge writes about 175 decisions per session. In the most recent data provided, the Supreme Court reviewed three of the 3rd Circuit’s decisions and reversed two. It is not unusual for an appellate court to see more than 50 percent of its judgements reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Third Judicial Circuit Notable Cases

During a controversial period of immigration reform and local laws enacted to reduce the impact of illegal immigration on jobs in 2014, the court decided that local jails could be held liable for false imprisonment if they detained individuals wrongly based on an assumed immigration status. A local man’s experience of a three-day stint in jail convinced the justices that law enforcement’s use of a “detainer” order for temporary imprisonment issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) to hold suspected illegal aliens could backfire on the county or law enforcement entity if the individual were found to be a U.S. citizen.

In 2013 the 3rd Circuit Court took a narrow view of an attempt to loosen sports betting in the state, rejecting it as in violation of a standing Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 by a vote of 2-1. The majority of the justices said in their opinion that a voter-supported initiative to allow gambling throughout the state violated the PASPA law and the Constitution. At the time of their vote, gambling was allowed in pockets of New Jersey including horse racetracks and in Atlantic City but many major league sports organizations sued the state, concerned that allowing gambling might damage the integrity of sports.