Explanation Of Alabama Unified Judicial System - 20th Judicial SystemRickey Stokes
Posted by: RStokes
Date: Jun 11 2019 5:34 PM
HOUSTON COUNTY: This week the Houston County Courthouse is filled with people and bustling with activity. It is jury trial week.
In Houston County we have two District Court Judges. Those are the Honorable Lori Collier Ingram and the Honorable Benjamin Lewis. You read more about Judge Lewis then Judge Ingram on cases handled.
Here is why: Judge Lewis handles all criminal first appearances, criminal misdemeanor trials, traffic trials, small claims cases, protection from abuse cases.
Judge Ingram handles the majority of juvenile cases which are confidential. Only the parties involved can be in the courtroom. None of the dockets are public record. And all activity is strictly prohibited from being discussed outside of the courtroom. Judge Ingram handles a lot of child support court issues, some of which are also assigned in Juvenile Court. She handles a lot of cases but those cases can not be identified.
District Judges serve only Houston County ( or the county elected in ) unless specifically appointed to sit in for a Judge in another county when they have a conflict.
In Henry County the Honorable Derek Peterson is District Court Judge. He handles dockets like Judge Lewis and Judge Ingram. There is only one District Court Judge in Henry County. Some of his court is public and some confidential. Serving as the only District Court Judge he gets the lucky draw to handle all of the District Court cases.
District Court is a “ Court of No Record “. Unless a Capital Murder cases, you will only see a court reporter in District Court if they are hired by the defendant. Sometimes the defendant hires a court reporter to lock witness testimony down. But the transcript can only be used to impeach a witness in a Circuit Court trial.
When cases are appealed from District Court ( or Municipal Court ) to Circuit Court, the trial held in District Court ( or Municipal Court ) does not matter. They are called Trial De Novo, which is begin again. Start new and fresh.
The case can not be sent back to District Court ( or Municipal Court ) to correct errors like the appeals court can do in Circuit Court. Because District Court ( and Municipal Court ) are courts of no record.
Houston and Henry County are combined as to one Judicial Circuit. We are the 20th Judicial Circuit which makes up Houston and Henry County.
The county seat for Houston County is Dothan. The county seat for Henry County is Abbeville.
A lot of Houston County was taken from Henry County land when Houston County was born.
The 20th Judicial Circuit has 5 Circuit Court Judges. These Judges are the 5 with the power to sentence you to death by lethal injection. So these five posses an enormous amount of responsibility and power.
The Circuit Court Judges for the 20th Judicial Circuit Court are: The Honorable Todd Derrick, The Honorable Butch Binford, The Honorable Kevin Moulton, The Honorable Larry Anderson, The Honorable John John Steensland.
The Honorable Butch Binford handles a lot of confidential cases which are juvenile cases. In addition to the cases you see published Judge Binford is like Judge Ingram. A lot of dockets that can not be published because those cases involve juvenile and are confidential. The only parties allowed in the courtroom are the parties involved and the cases can not be discussed.
All of the Circuit Judges handle what every Judge hates, DIVORCES. Every Judge has heard what kind of ------ someone is. There are no winners in divorce cases and child custody cases. But those cases come with the territory.
All Circuit Judges handle Civil Cases. Where one person files a lawsuit against another person. Those issues vary but normally in someway surround money.
All Circuit Judges handle Criminal Cases. Some are appeals from Municipal or District Court, and some are felony cases. Unless waived or pre-trial diversion kick off the criminal cases handled by a Circuit Court Judge are before a jury of 12 peers.
The Judge determines the law. The jury determines the facts which decides the guilt or innocence. If guilty the Judge decides the sentence.
The District Attorney handles the prosecution of all misdemeanor and felony cases in District and Circuit Court in their Circuit. If a Municipality has their own court system then that municipality has to hire their own Judge, Prosecutor, Public Defender and Court Magistrate.
A Municipal Court can only try misdemeanor cases. They can not set a bond higher than $ 1,000.00 cash and can not sentence anyone to over a 12 month sentence.
The District Attorney for the 20 Judicial Circuit is the Honorable Pat Jones. He serves both Houston and Henry County. He has offices in both Dohan and Abbeville. Once an arrest is made the decision to prosecute the case after the arrest or the decision to not prosecute the case is solely up to the District Attorney. Several factors weigh into that decision.
If a officer tells you he will work a deal if you turn cases, that has to be worked out before arrest. He has some weight after the arrest but only the District Attorney can make the final decision.
A program called Pre-Trial Diversion is administered through the prosecutor or District Attorney. A program to let someone complete certain programs for their issue, community service, pay court ordered money and after 12 months their case is dismissed. One element I strongly disagree with in pre-trial diversion. If the police officer objects then pre-trial diversion is denied. In my opinion this should never be the policy. The officer should be asked and should articulate in writing if they oppose and why. The reason I say that is, some officers are against the pre-trial program period. The program is good and the officer’s opinion is wanted, but it should never be based on his like or dislike of the program.
In one state the victim opposed pretrial diversion just because the officer told him to. Neither knew the defendant or defendant’s character. Once the victim was introduced and found out exactly what happened he supported pre-trial diversion completely. But the prosecutor and officer were not honest and the victim did not understand the pretrial diversion program or know anything about the defendant. AGAIN, this was another State that I saw this happen and not here.
CIRCUIT CLERK OF COURT
There is a Circuit Clerk Court for each county. In Houston County the Circuit Clerk is Carla Woodall. In Henry County the Circuit Clerk is Shirlene Vickers. In Dale County the Circuit Court Clerk is Deloris Woodham.
The office is Circuit Clerk IS NOT A POSITION, folks it is a job.
The Circuit Clerk is elected. They have tremendous responsibility. A large volume of work with inadequate number of staff and pay. The office of Circuit Clerk is probably the most abused office in the Judicial System.
When I say abused, I am referring to all people in power to be have no idea of the workload and responsibility of the Circuit Clerk’s Office and it’s importance, and those powers to be abuse that office every year.
Take Houston County for instance, keeping 7 Judges and how many lawyers and cases, notified, documents filed correctly and timely, notices sent out to law enforcement to transport inmates, transcript records filed, and on and on and on and on.
Municipal Courts normally has one Judge and only criminal cases. So they do not handle the volume of work and different parties of which Circuit Court Clerks handle. And the Circuit Court Clerk handles all cases, District – Divorce – Small Claims – Criminal – Issuing of Arrest Warrants – Grand Jury returns, and I can keep going.
So if ever think a Circuit Court Clerk is a “position”. Think Again.
While I have focused on the 20th Judicial Circuit, there are other circuits.
The 33rd Judicial Circuit is made up of Dale and Geneva County. Two Circuit Court Judges for Dale and Geneva County, The Honorable Judge Filmore and the Honorable Judge Clark.
In Dale County two District Court Judges, The Honorable District Judge Garner and Judge Smith.
In Geneva County the Honorable Judge Smith. Not the same Smith’s in Dale and Geneva County.
The District Attorney for the 33rd Judicial Circuit is Kirke Adams. He ought to be Alabama’s Attorney General. Adams brings more “common sense” to the prosecutor’s offices then anyone I have seen and will make a decision and shoulder the responsibility of that decision. And Kirke Adams refuses to prosecute a crappy case and expects good cases to be brought.
Alabama created under Senator Heflin ( I think ) the Alabama Unified Judicial System.
It needs to be renamed the Alabama UNUNIFIED Judicial System. Dealing with as many jurisdictions as I do, it ain’t the same way in each county or circuit. And a lot of them do not care what the law reads.
In fact, the laws are broken more by those in the seats of power then those in the system as defendants. So when someone tells of the Alabama Unified Judicial System is unified, it is not unified.
Just an explanation of the Judicial System as best I could.