Arkansas' Judicial System
Arkansas’ judicial system functions as one unit consisting of different courts. Each court performs a distinct role. Cases begin in a local court. Most cases end with a solution at the local court. Few cases move up to the Court of Appeals, and even fewer cases go all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Arkansas Supreme Court
Arkansas became the 25th state of the United States in 1836. Under the first state constitution, the Arkansas Supreme Court was composed of three judges, including one chief Justice. The state’s current constitution, ratified in 1874, provided for three Arkansas Supreme Court judges. Subsequent amendments increased the number of the court to seven judges. The Arkansas Supreme Court generally has only appellate jurisdiction, meaning it typically hears cases that are appealed from trial courts. The Arkansas Supreme Court also has general superintending control over all inferior courts of law and equity. The Constitution also outlines the qualifications for a judge, including age, education, resident status, and term limits. The seven Arkansas Supreme Court judges are elected in state-wide, non-partisan races and serve staggered eight-year terms, so that it is unlikely all members of the court would be replaced in one election.
Arkansas Court of Appeals
The Arkansas Court of Appeals was created in 1978 by Amendment 58 to the Arkansas Constitution. The Court handed down its first opinions for publication on August 8, 1979. The creation of the Arkansas Court of Appeals provided relief for the Arkansas Supreme Court’s growing docket, but continued growth required an increase in the size of the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Legislation was adopted in 1993 to increase the Arkansas Court of Appeals from six to twelve members.
The State of Arkansas is divided into seven districts for the election of judges to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Qualifications for sitting on the Arkansas Court of Appeals are the same as those for sitting on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Arkansas Constitutional Amendment 80 took effect on July 1, 2001 and eliminated separate courts of law and courts of equity in Arkansas. Circuit courts are general jurisdiction trial courts. Circuit courts consist of five subject matter divisions: criminal, civil, probate, domestic relations, and juvenile. Circuit courts also hear cases appealed from lower courts.
Judicial candidates for circuit judge run in nonpartisan elections and are required to have been licensed attorneys in the state for six years before the date of assuming office. Circuit judges serve a six-year term.
District courts handle most traffic violation cases and hear both criminal and civil cases, including small claims and landlord-tenant disputes.
Small Claims Court
Small claims court is a division of the district court and hears civil cases of $5,000 or less.