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Jurisdiction of the District Court Department

Learn about the District Court’s jurisdiction.

Table of Contents

Overview

The District Court hears a wide range of criminal, civil, housing, juvenile, mental health, and other types of cases. District Court criminal jurisdiction extends to all felonies punishable by a sentence up to 5 years, and many other specific felonies with greater potential penalties, all misdemeanors, and all violations of city and town ordinances and bylaws. For felonies that aren’t within the District Court’s final jurisdiction, the District Court conducts probable cause hearings to determine if a defendant should be bound over to the Superior Court. District Court magistrates conduct hearings to issue criminal complaints and arrest warrants, and to determine whether there’s probable cause to detain people arrested without a warrant. Both judges and magistrates issue criminal and administrative search warrants.

In civil matters, District Court judges conduct both jury and jury-waived trials, and make final determinations on any matter where the likelihood of recovery is no more than $50,000 (for cases commenced on or after January 1, 2020). The District Court also tries small claims involving up to $7,000 (initially tried to a magistrate, where the defense has a right of appeal either to a judge or a jury). 15 of its judges serve on the Appellate Division, an appellate tribunal with published opinions that’s organized in 3 geographic districts, and sits in 3-judge panels, to review questions of law that come up in civil cases.

 The District Court's civil jurisdiction also includes many specialized proceedings, including: 

  • Inquests 
  • Summary process (evictions) 
  • Supplementary process (enforcement of money judgments) 
  • Abuse prevention restraining orders 
  • Mental health matters (including involuntary civil commitments and medication orders, and supervision of criminal defendants committed for mental observation or because they’re incompetent to stand trial or after an insanity acquittal) 
  • Appeals from certain administrative agencies (involving, for example, firearms licenses or unemployment compensation) 
  • Civil motor vehicle infractions (tried initially to a magistrate, with right of appeal to a judge) 
  • Equitable injunctions (exercising specialized equity jurisdiction in all counties, plus general equity jurisdiction in small claims, summary process, and civil money damage actions) 
  • Other miscellaneous civil matters

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Last updated: December 31, 2019
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