Kentucky Circuit Courts

This column is the second in a four-part series on Kentucky’s court system.

Many of the trials that make newspaper headlines are heard in circuit court. Each county has a circuit court, which generally has jurisdiction over felony and capital offense cases. Circuit court also hears appeals from district court and administrative agencies.

Murders, rapes, grand theft auto, arson and other more serious crimes are tried in circuit court. Circuit court also hears cases involving divorce, adoption, termination of parental rights, contested probates and wills, and land dispute title problems. Circuit court also hears civil matters involving more than $4,000.
Unlike district court (which was discussed in the previous column), circuit court can hear all types of cases unless the General Assembly has given exclusive jurisdiction for particular cases to another court. In 2006, nearly 103,000 cases were handled in circuit court throughout the state.

Circuit court juries have six to 12 members. In criminal trials, jury verdicts must be unanimous, but in civil jury trials, a three-fourths majority is sufficient to reach a verdict. Most circuit court cases are prosecuted by a commonwealth’s attorney.

Circuit judges are elected to eight-year terms. In counties with no family court, circuit judges may be assisted by master commissioners on property matters and by domestic relations commissioners on divorce and custody matters.

In many counties, family courts, a division of circuit courts, have been implemented since 2002. The next column in this series will discuss family court as well as specialty courts.