Brief Description of the District Courts
The bulk of trial court decisions that are appealed are never heard by the Supreme Court. Rather, they are reviewed by three-judge panels of the district courts of appeal. Florida did not have district courts of appeal until 1957.
Until that time, all appeals were heard solely by the Supreme Court. As Florida grew rapidly in the twentieth century, however, the Supreme Court's docket became badly congested. Justice Elwyn Thomas with help from other members of the Court perceived the problem and successfully lobbied for the creation of the district-court system to provide intermediate appellate courts.
The Constitution now provides that the Legislature shall divide the State into appellate court districts and that there shall be a district court of appeal (DCA) serving each district. There are five such districts that are headquartered in Tallahassee, Lakeland, Miami, West Palm Beach, and Daytona Beach.
DCA judges must meet the same eligibility requirements for appointment to office, and they are subject to the same procedures and conditions for discipline and removal from office, as Justices of the Supreme Court. Like Supreme Court Justices, district court judges also serve terms of six years and will be eligible for successive terms under a merit retention vote of the electors in their districts.
In each district court, a chief judge, who is selected by the district court judges within the district, is responsible for the administrative duties of the court.
The district courts of appeal can hear appeals from final judgments and can review certain non-final orders. By general law, the district courts have been granted the power to review final actions taken by state agencies in carrying out the duties of the executive branch of government.
Finally, the district courts have been granted constitutional authority to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, as well as all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
As a general rule, decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the final appellate review of litigated cases. A person who is displeased with a district court's express decision may ask for review in the Florida Supreme Court and then in the United States Supreme Court, but neither tribunal is required to accept the case for further review. Most are denied.