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New York Resources

This State Guide provides an in-depth look at sources of law in New York.

More on Courts

As shown in two court structure charts provided by the New York State Unified Court System, the New York judicial system has three levels:

  • Court of Appeals: New York's court of last resort (the equivalent of the supreme court in most states)
  • Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court: Principal intermediate appellate courts of which there are four divisions, one in each of the state's four Judicial Departments.
  • Trial Courts: Including Supreme Courts, the state trial courts of general jurisdiction

The structure of the courts and appeal procedures have not changed since the last judiciary amendment of 1962. Although there have been proposals to simplify the court system in 1986 and again in 2002, changes are still not on the horizon. The proposed court reorganization of 2002 is quite extensive and would require an amendment of the New York Constitution.

Court of Appeals

As described on the Court of Appeals website:

"The Court of Appeals, New York State's highest court, is composed of a Chief Judge and six Associate Judges, each appointed to a 14-year term. New York's highest appellate court was established to articulate statewide principles of law in the context of deciding particular lawsuits. The Court thus generally focuses on broad issues of law as distinguished from individual factual disputes. There is no jurisdictional limitation based upon the amount of money at stake in a case or the status or rank of the parties."

Cases argued before the court would have been heard by a trial court and the Appellate Division. The Court of Appeals also promulgates rules of the court. 


Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court

As described on the New York State Unified Court System website

"There are four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court, one in each of the State's four Judicial Departments (geographical divisions). These Courts resolve appeals from judgments or orders of the superior courts of original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, and review civil appeals taken from the Appellate Terms and the County Courts acting as appellate courts."

New York County and Bronx belong to the First Judicial Department, while Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties belong to the Second Judicial Department. Albany County falls within the Third Judicial Department. Counties of the Watertown District, Jefferson and Lewis, belong to the Fourth Judicial Department.


Trial Courts

As described in the New York State Unified Court website:

"The Supreme Court is the trial court of unlimited original jurisdiction; but generally hears cases that are outside the jurisdiction of other trial courts of more limited jurisdiction.

"The County Court is established in each county outside New York City. It is authorized to handle the prosecution of all crimes committed within the County. The County Court also has limited jurisdiction in civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000.

"City Courts outside New York City exist in 61 cities and have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000. Some City Courts have separate parts to handle Small claims (up to $5,000), or housing matters. City Court judges act as arraigning magistrates and conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases.

The New York City Courts consist of a Supreme Court, Family Court, Surrogate's Court, Civil Court and Criminal Court.

"District Courts exist in Nassau Count and in the five western towns of Suffolk County. District Courts have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and also conduct arraignments in felony cases. They have civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000 and small claims matters not in excess of $5,000.

"Town and Village Courts have criminal jurisdiction over violations and misdemeanors, and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $3,000. As magistrates, Town and Village Court justices hold arraignments and preliminary hearings for those charged with more serious crimes. Traffic infractions also are heard in these courts."

Trial courts also include Family Court as well as Surrogate's Court.

More Information on New York Courts