Divided across 5 levels, the judiciary of New Mexico has the Supreme Court at its helms while the municipal courts, which are tribunals of limited jurisdiction, are at the bottom of the legal pyramid. Together, these courts handle civil and criminals matters along with any appeals that arise in the process of trying these cases. Here is a look at the responsibilities of these judicial entities.
The Supreme Court
Rightly hailed as the Court of Last Resort in the state, the apex body handles appeals as well as the administration of the judicial network. It is made of 5 justices along with the county clerk and the administrative staff. The justices sit in panel when deciding on a matter. The Supreme Court has mandatory jurisdiction in all civil, criminal, interlocutory and disciplinary cases. Furthermore, the court also lays down the rules of practice in the lower tribunals and hears matters against state administrative agencies.
The Court of Appeals
This is the intermediate appellate court of the state. Comprising of ten judges, the Court of Appeals handles the bulk of the appellate cases that are taken forward from the District tribunals in the state, only transferring matters that are linked to capital punishment to the Supreme Court. The judges of the appellate court sit in panels of 3 to decide on matters and cases are not retried at this judicial level.
Instead, the Court of Appeals will merely view the legal processing and the judgment of the lower court to understand if any errors were committed. The Court of Appeals exercises mandatory jurisdiction in civil, juvenile and non capital criminal cases while it has discretionary authority to hear interlocutory matters.
The District Courts
These are the general jurisdiction tribunals in the state and as such, they hear all criminal cases, including felonies and misdemeanors and civil cases that range from probate to domestic relations, mental health and more. All jury trials are held in the District Courts and these tribunals have exclusive jurisdiction in juvenile matters. The District Courts also handle appeals from the municipal and metropolitan tribunals.
All appeals are de novo, meaning that the trial is conducted anew for a given matter. However, in some cases only the case records may be studied. There is District Court for every judicial jurisdiction in the state, of which there are 13. Together these tribunals are served by 63 judges who are elected to 6 year terms.
Every county except for Bernalillo has at least one Magistrate Court. The state is served by 32 such tribunals that have 67 magistrates who are elected to 4 year terms. These are tribunals of limited jurisdiction and as such they handle civil matters in which the dispute involves a sum of $10,000 or less, misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor cases and preliminary processes in felonies. So, they are in charge of issuing arrest warrants in NM.
Only Bernalillo County has a Metropolitan Court which performs as a combined judicial entity handling cases that are heard by magistrate as well as municipal courts. Metropolitan Courts are limited jurisdiction tribunals in counties with a population of 250,000 and more (at present only Bernalillo meets this criterion).
At the lowest judicial rung, the municipal courts also have limited jurisdiction and can only hear non jury trials and matters pertaining to DWI offenses and municipal and traffic violations. Generally, these tribunals can only hear cases that are connected to offenses which are punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and no more than 90 days in prison. There are 85 municipal courts across NM and each of these is served by a judge who stays in office for 4 years.