A police court is a lower court which handles minor criminal matters and may also remand people to jail to await trial if they are suspected of more serious crimes. Many jurisdictions use police courts to handle minor matters so that upper courts can be freed to handle more serious legal issues. This type of court is also sometimes referred to as a municipal court, a magistrate's court, and a judge's court. It is important to be aware that the term “municipal court” is also sometimes used to refer to a court which can handle civil as well as criminal cases, which is not the case with a police court.
The police court is presided over by a judge. Many cases are decided by the judge alone without the need for a jury, although a jury can be assembled for cases in which a jury trial is required. Jury service in a police court counts as a session of jury service, and once people have served they cannot be called again in another court until a set period of time has elapsed. The amount of time which is required between jury summons varies depending on the regional need for jurors.
Matters handled in a police court include very mild misdemeanors as well as violations of municipal ordinances. The judge can fine people or sentence them to community service, and in some cases people may face a brief period of time in jail. In the event that someone is accused of a more serious crime and brought into a police court, the court cannot try the case, but it can rule that the suspect be held in jail pending trial or a bail hearing.
A classic example of a matter which might be handled in a police court is a traffic infraction. Many people who receive traffic tickets simply plead guilty, in which case they will be asked to pay a fine and may be asked to attend traffic school. In the event that someone intends to plead not guilty, the case can be tried in the police court. Other minor infractions which might be handled by such a court include violations of the municipal code such as littering, failing to abide by noise ordinances, and so forth.
Although a police court is an inferior court, people are expected to maintain the same behavioral standards they would observe in any courtroom. People must dress neatly and reasonably for the court, although they do not need to adopt the formal dress which might be required for an appearance in federal or national court. Attendees of the court must also rise when the judge enters, comply with requests for quiet, and refrain from being disrespectful.