Contributor: Adam Justinger
Have you recently been charged with a crime? If you have, then your case will be tried in either district court or municipal court. While both are trial courts, they have major differences. The differences can be extremely important in an individual’s criminal case. So, let’s talk about these two courts.
Currently, there are 357 incorporated cities in North Dakota. Out of the 357 incorporated cities, 90 of the cities have a municipal court. There are approximately 75 municipal judges who serve these 90 municipal courts. Municipal courts are creatures of statute.
A municipal judge has the jurisdiction to hear, try, and determine offenses against the ordinances of the city. City ordinances can include traffic violations, infractions, and B misdemeanors. Municipal courts cannot hold jury trials. Instead, the only trial that can be conducted in a municipal court is a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial in front of a judge. If an individual is convicted in municipal court, they have the right to appeal the determination of the municipal judge and have a trial anew in the district court.
There are 53 district courts in North Dakota. The district courts are divided into 8 different regional districts. District courts will hear criminal cases which allege violations of state law. This can include anything from a minor traffic ticket to a class AA Felony. District courts may also hear cases removed or appealed from municipal courts.
In district court, an individual can either request a jury trial or a bench trial. If an individual selects a jury trial, the case will be tried amongst 6 or 12 people who are selected to the jury. If the case is a bench trial, the case will be tried by the judge. If an individual wishes to appeal a decision of the district court, they would appeal the case directly to the North Dakota Supreme Court.
What Are The Major Differences?
The most important difference between a municipal court and a district court is the type of trial you are permitted to have. As previously discussed, an individual cannot have a jury trial in municipal court. However, an individual charged with a crime has a constitutional right to a jury trial. Thus, a person who wishes to have a jury trial for a criminal offense must be permitted to have one. If you are charged with a criminal offense in municipal court, you have 28 days from the date of your arraignment to make a written request to remove your case to district court. If an individual fails to make a written request within the 28 day period, they will waive their right to a jury trial.
Another major difference between municipal courts and district courts is the mandatory court fees that are imposed. Under statute, an individual convicted in district court of a class B misdemeanor will have to pay a mandatory $225 in fees. Whereas in municipal court, these fees can either be substantially less or inapplicable in general. If your case originated in municipal court and you transferred it to district court for a jury trial, you may still have the option to remand the case back to municipal court to attempt to avoid the mandatory district court fees.
The last major difference was alluded to above. Municipal courts can only hear lower-level criminal violations (traffic violations, infractions, and B misdemeanors). Whereas district courts can hear any level of criminal offense.
The decision to have a bench trial or a jury trial is extremely important to your case. It is best to consult with an attorney to determine which type of trial and which court is best suited for your case. It is also important to consult with an attorney about the fees associated with each respective court.
If you are charged with a crime, it is likely in your best interest to contact an attorney to review your case and advise you on the best strategy moving forward. For help with criminal matters in North Dakota or Minnesota, please contact Adam Justinger at SW&L Attorneys in Fargo at 701-297-2890. For future articles, check out our blog.
This article is for informational purposes only.