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Overview of the New York Court System

New York has one of the busiest court systems in the country and has grown quite complex over its long history. It can be helpful, however, to think of the system as a three-tiered pyramid.

The bottom tier is made up various trial courts. They include family courts, district courts, and city courts. It also includes the Supreme Court, which hears cases outside the authority of the lower courts. The Supreme Court's authority inside New York City encompasses civil cases involving higher dollar amounts; criminal felony cases; and divorce, separation, and annulment proceedings. Outside New York City, criminal matters are heard by county courts.

The middle tier includes the state's intermediate appellate courts. The primary court in this tier is the Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court in the First and Second Departments. In addition, county courts also have an appellate function, hearing appeals of decision in city courts and town and village courts.

The top tier is the Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from the intermediate appellate courts, and in some instances from the trial courts.

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