Explore the Massachusetts court system and find out how the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and the Trial Courts were first formed and the roles they play today. Also, learn about the trial and appeal processes and why lawyers and judges throughout American history have relied on the Social Law Library.
The Chief Justice of the Trial Court oversees the Trial Courts, which consists of a central administrative office and seven trial courts (the Boston Municipal Court, the District Court, the Housing Court, the Juvenile Court, the Probate and Family Court, the Superior Court, and the Land Court).
Our court system provides every litigant - except for the government in criminal cases - with the right to appeal trial court decisions and have proceedings reviewed by an appellate court. Most appeals from the trial courts are entered initially in, and decided by, the Appeals Court. Some are transferred to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Appeals Court also has jurisdiction over appeals of decisions from the Appellate Tax Board, the Department of Industrial Accidents and the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board. A few types of appeals do not go the Appeals Court, such as an appeal of a conviction of first degree murder, which goes directly to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is the Commonwealth's highest appellate court. The Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. It has appellate jurisdiction in matters of law and also advises the governor and legislature on legal questions.
The Framers of the Constitution considered both the right to a jury trial and the performance of juror service as sacred and necessary to preserve individual freedom. Juror service was, and still is, viewed as a duty and privilege of citizenship, and as a necessary check against government use of the courts to wrongly convict the innocent. Currently fifty-eight Massachusetts courts use jurors in the fourteen judicial districts (counties).
The Probation Service is responsible for community supervision of offenders/litigants, diversion of appropriate offenders from institutional sentences, reduction in crime, mediations, service to victims, investigations, and the performance of other community service functions. The Service consists of 105 departments and 21 community corrections centers throughout the state.
The Committee oversees provision of legal representation to indigent persons in criminal and civil court cases and administrative proceedings in which there is a right to counsel.
The Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee is an independent state agency under the Supreme Judicial Court that helps children and adults with mental disabilities protect their rights and obtain appropriate services
The Supreme Judicial Court established the Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel in 1974 as independent administrative bodies to investigate and evaluate complaints against lawyers.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct investigates complaints of judicial misconduct against state court judges and recommends, when necessary, discipline of judges to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Board of Bar Examiners is an administrative agency of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts created by the Court to handle matters of bar admission. The Board reports to the Court as to the character, acquirements, and qualifications of each candidate for admission who has passed the written bar examination or who has filed a motion application.