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What Is Common Pleas Court?

Common pleas courts often handle matters like probate, divorce, and similar types of legal matters.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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A common pleas court is a court that has general jurisdiction, meaning that it can hear a variety of criminal and civil cases. Several justice systems use these kinds of courts as intermediate-level courts for their legal systems. Common pleas courts are trial courts and do not have the jurisdiction to hear appeals; people who wish to appeal cases must take their cases to an appeals court that has this legal authority.

Historically, Great Britain used common pleas courts to handle legal disputes between commoners, with other courts handling legal matters relating to the nobility. The concept of a court with general jurisdiction to handle civil and criminal matters on an intermediate level carried over into other legal systems, and courts of common pleas appeared in numerous other nations as well. The precise jurisdiction of such courts varies, depending on how a nation's legal system is structured.

A typical common pleas court can hear all civil and criminal matters, with no ceiling on the types of cases it hears. These courts are used to try people accused of felonies, as well as to handle civil suits where large damages are being requested. In some regions, the court may have limited jurisdiction, with certain big cases being sent to higher courts. These courts usually publish information about the types of cases they can oversee so that people know where to file a case.

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Common pleas courts also handle matters like probate, divorce, and similar types of legal matters. General jurisdiction allows the court to oversee a broad assortment of cases. If a common pleas court does not have jurisdiction, it must refer a case to a more appropriate court. General jurisdiction is also periodically subjected to legal challenges in cases where people believe that a judge in a common pleas court overstepped the jurisdictional boundaries.

When lawsuits are filed, attorneys are typically aware of where the case needs to be filed. They are familiar with the court system in a given area and with how cases are handled. Sometimes, attorneys may attempt to push the jurisdictional envelope in the hopes of getting into a specific court and perhaps setting a legal precedent that will be helpful for similar cases in the future. This must be done with care, as attorneys must serve the best interests of their clients and if they knowingly file in the wrong court they can be subject to penalties.

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titans62
Post 4

One question I have about common pleas courts is if they vary from state to state.

I am only asking this question because it seems like common pleas courts are not something that occur on the federal level and would occur in the state court rooms in the United States.

Because of this assumption and the differences in legal policy across all the states in the Union, I was wondering if there was a consensus in the country concerning the legality and the general jurisdiction of the common pleas courts or if they vary depending on the type of case and severity in the region it occurred in.

cardsfan27
Post 3

@stl156 - If you are insinuating that the fore fathers of the United States were the ones to come up with the common pleas courts in the United States, they are not the ones that came up with the concept.

The concept came over from Great Britain and was simply something that concerned commoners in order to assist in the legal process and deem where who goes where for certain cases.

I highly doubt that it was created out of the idea of making the legal system easier, as the colonies were a whole lot smaller and the colonial court systems were a whole lot more simpler back then than they are today.

Although the fore fathers were smart people, they did not create much in the courts besides the Supreme Court which oversees every court in the United States.

matthewc23
Post 2

@stl156 - That is a possibility, but I am betting that the legal process as far a common pleas courts are concerned in the United States more or less fell into place as it evolved over the hundreds of years that it has been here, even when the United States was not founded yet and was simply a colony of Great Britain.

I would say what common pleas types of cases encompass was created out of the old English system, which simply was the court that was set aside for commoners and was kind of seen as the lower class of the courts.

I would also venture to guess that over the years it eventually evolved into what it is today as the legal precedents piled up and the reforms of the law and court system changed over the centuries.

stl156
Post 1

I have always wondered about common pleas courts and exactly what they entail. It seems to me like common pleas courts will include most small claims types of courts as well as other matters that would otherwise cloud the legal system and simply make the legal process much longer and even more back logged.

I wonder if when legal systems were created in the United States if they had it set in their mind that they would create a court that would have general jurisdiction in order to cover a variety of cases and try to simplify the already complex legal process.

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