The Alaska judicial system can be segregated into 4 levels. The tribunals at each step have distinctive powers, with each subsequent step providing additional jurisdiction. The network is designed to hear matters ranging from petty misdemeanors and minor civil disputes to family, probate and corporate cases and from serious criminal infractions to appeals against the decisions of the lower courts and even litigations between state entities.
At the apex of the judiciary is the Alaska Supreme Court
The highest judicial entity in the state, this is the courthouse in downtown Fairbanks. It comprises of 5 justices who chose a Chief Justice from among themselves to serve a three year term as the chief administrator of the state’s judicial branch. The Supreme Court has appellate, original, mandatory as well as discretionary jurisdiction.
This simply means that it can choose the appeals that are brought before it. While certain matters are always heard by the apex entity, other cases are taken up before the verdict is delivered by the lower court. Given its position at the top of the judicial hierarchy, the decisions of the Supreme Court are a binding on all tribunals in the network
But, most appeals are heard by the Intermediate Appellate Court!
The Court of Appeals acts as the intermediate court that appeals are taken to. It has limited discretionary powers, which means that most appeals from the lower tribunals are taken up by this court. It comprises of 3 judges; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court selects the Chief Judge from this panel, to serve the term for 2 years. The tribunal has appellate jurisdiction in cases ranging from criminal transgressions to quasi-criminal matters pertaining to juvenile delinquency, cases that involve a prisoner challenging conditional release decisions, as well as the legality of confinement and post-conviction relief.
All appeals from the Superior Court will be entertained by the Court of Appeals. Also, it is possible to take a complaint concerning an appeal which was taken from the district courts to the superior court where the latter upheld the judgment of the lower tribunal. However, in such cases, the Court of Appeals is at the discretion to choose if the appeal ought to be heard.
The Superior courts
There are 4 Superior Courts across the state in the four judicial districts. These are tribunals which have general jurisdiction to tackle most criminal and civil matters. In some cases such as misdemeanors and petty offenses as well as civil matters where the disputed amount does not exceed $50,000, the Superior Court shares jurisdiction with the district courts.
However, pursuant to the Alaska Laws, no matter in which the Superior and District Court share jurisdiction should be taken to the former. This is done to save the higher level tribunals some time. Generally, matters that are taken to the Superior Court will include felonies, disputes in civil matters that exceed the compensation amount of $50,000 and family issues.
The District Courts
These tribunals have limited jurisdiction to handle certain types of criminal and civil cases. For instance, in terms of criminal matters, the district courts can only handle misdemeanor issues and violation of traffic and civic rules. Apart from this, the district courts also have the authority to hold preliminary hearings concerning felonies. So, this is the tribunal that issues all active warrants for AK, search orders and criminal summons.
Arraignments are also held at these courts and the magistrate can grant bail in a felony. However, if a grand jury indictment is included in the criminal process, this procedure is undertaken at the Superior Court and the arrest warrant issued subsequently is also released by the Superior Tribunal.
Among the other cases typically handled by the District Courts are inquests, recording of vital statistics, civil matters in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $50,000, the issue of marriage licenses and probate cases.