Municipal Court in the Local Government

The existence of municipal courts provides cities with enforcement of certain misdemeanor criminal laws and ordinances within their boundaries. Although the municipal court is created by state statute, it is also a part of the city government. As a result, it must operate within the overall governmental context yet maintain its independence from the other governmental branches and agencies of the city.

Separation of Powers

The U.S Constitution establishes three major branches of government: the legislative, the judicial and the executive. The basic roles of these branches are for (1) the legislative branch to make the law, (2) the judicial branch to interpret the law, and (3) the executive branch to enforce the law. Underlying the separation of powers is the theory of checks and balances. The founding fathers believed that if legal power were divided into three branches, no one branch would be able to dominate the other two and thereby impose its own theory of justice on an unconsenting public.

The separation of powers also applies to city government in the following manner: the mayor/city manager and operating departments compare to the federal executive branch (President); the city council compares to the legislative branch; and the municipal court compares to the judicial branch. Each of these branches must operate independently of each other. This means that the municipal court must not operate as a "rubber stamp" or "arm" of the mayor, the city manager or the police department. The defendant and defense counsel should receive the same fair treatment and consideration that the police and prosecution receive.

Basic Court Organization

The prosecutor, usually the city attorney or an assistant, is responsible for investigation and prosecution of all cases in municipal court and has ultimate responsibility for preparation of all complaints.