- Court Basics
Shawnee County District Court is providing the following forms and self-help resources. Please note that these resources are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.
The court cannot provide you with legal advice and you will be held to the same standard as a licensed attorney.
Overview of the Third Judicial Court in Shawnee County
There are approximately 500,000 cases filed in Kansas district courts each Year. Of these cases, about 30,000 are criminal cases (where persons are accused of a crime) and 140,000 are civil actions (usually suits for money). Juvenile cases account for another 17,000 cases and the balance are a mixture of traffic, probate, treatment proceedings, and others. But despite the rising tide of litigation, Kansas trial courts are nationally recognized as leaders in reducing delay in the courts. Presently, less than one percent of the state’s civil cases are over two years old, and only 6.2 percent of the criminal cases in the entire state (469 cases) are even over one year old.
Most court matters are resolved without a jury trial even though television may make it seem otherwise. However, the right to a jury trial is guaranteed in both criminal and civil cases and is recognized as the foundation of the American court system. In civil cases, for example, either a six or a 12-member jury may be requested, or by agreement of the parties the jury could be waived and the case tried to a judge alone. Criminal cases require a 12-member jury for felonies and a six member jury for misdemeanor. A majority of ten jurors may decide a civil jury trial, but a unanimous verdict is required in criminal cases and in any six member jury case.
Court proceedings are presided over by a judge, whose duty is to apply the law and oversee the matter through its conclusion. The person or entity (such as a business or the government) bringing the lawsuit is called the plaintiff in civil cases and the state, through the prosecutor, brings a criminal case. The person or entity against whom the action was filed is called the defendant, in both civil and criminal cases.
Order of Trial
Jury trials begin with "voir dire," or questions of prospective jurors concerning their qualifications to sit on the jury. Next the plaintiff, or the state, presents an opening statement in which an outline of the anticipated evidence is given. The defense attorney also may give an opening statement at that point, or in criminal cases it could be reserved until after the prosecution rests its case. The evidence is presented first by the plaintiff (or the state) through exhibits and testimony, all of which are subject to legal challenges by the defendant, including cross- examination of the witnesses. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case, the defense may, but is not required to, present evidence.
Outside the Courtroom
As we mentioned, very few legal matters are actually resolved through full-blown jury or court trials. Most of the work of disposing of our state’s judicial business occurs in less formal surroundings, such as conference rooms, smaller hearing rooms and the judge’s chambers. It is here that most judges and court personnel labor through preliminary hearings, docket calls, hearings on motions, settlement and discovery conferences, researching the law and completing a myriad of other tasks. Similar to the analogy of the duck gliding seemingly effortlessly on a lake, the judges and court personnel are working paddles beneath the surface, to make the system work.
Other Kinds of Cases
In addition to the broad categories of civil and criminal cases, a variety of other kinds of proceedings are resolved by the trial courts. Some of these are:
Cases involving juveniles fall under two sets of laws. One is called the Code for Children in Need of Care. These matters, by statute adopted by the Legislature, are closed to the public in most instances. The second is cases under the Juvenile Offenders Code. Public access here depends upon the age of the juvenile.
A variety of proceedings fall under the probate jurisdiction. In addition to wills and estates the judge also handles commitments of mentally ill persons needing care and treatment, appoints guardians and conservators, and presides over adoptions and name changes.
Family related proceedings fall under the general heading of domestic relations. These include divorces, child custody and support actions, protection from abuse, annulments, and separate maintenance petitions.
These cases can range from speeding ticket to Driving Under the Influence. Most traffic cases handled by the District Court arise from violations occurring upon county or state highways, but outside the city limits. However, district courts also handle all appeals from municipal courts.
Civil cases involving cases with claims of less than $4,000.00 may be resolved through filing a small claims case without the assistance of an attorney. The clerk of the district court has forms for use by the persons involved in small claims cases.
When a judicial vacancy occurs, a nonpartisan committee of Shawnee County citizens, which consists of one half lawyers and one half non-lawyers, screens applicants and submits a list of the most qualified nominees to the governor. The governor appoints the new judge from this list. Every four years the voters of Shawnee County vote to determine whether each judge should be retained in office based upon the judge’s qualifications and job performance, without regard to partisan politics.