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Judicial system

The state's highest court is the supreme court, a panel of seven justices that sits in Tallahassee; every two years, the presiding justices elect one of their number as chief justice. All justices are appointed to six-year terms by the governor upon the recommendation of a judicial nominating commission. They may seek further six-year terms in a yes-no vote in a general election; if the incumbent justice does not receive a majority of "yes" votes, the governor appoints another person to fill the vacancy from the recommended list of qualified candidates.

The supreme court has appellate jurisdiction only. The state constitution, as amended, prescribes certain types of cases in which an appeal must be heard, including those in which the death penalty has been ordered and those in which a lower appellate court has invalidated a state law or a provision of the state constitution. The court also hears appeals of state agency decisions on utility rates and may, at its discretion, hear appeals in many other types of cases.

Below the supreme court are five district courts of appeal, which sit in Tallahassee, Lakeland, Miami, West Palm Beach, and Daytona Beach. There are 61 district court judges; the method of their selection and retention in office is the same as for supreme court justices. District courts hear appeals of lower court decisions and may review the actions of executive agencies. District court decisions are usually final, since most requests for supreme court review are denied.

The state's principal trial courts are its 20 circuit courts, which have original jurisdiction in many types of cases, including civil suits involving more than $5,000, felony cases, and all cases involving juveniles. Circuit courts may also hear appeals from county courts if no constitutional question is involved. Circuit court judges are elected for six-year terms and must have been members of the Florida bar for at least five years before election. There were 468 circuit court judges in 1999.

Each of Florida's 67 counties has a county court with original jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases, civil disputes involving $5,000 or less, and traffic-violation cases. County court judges are elected for four-year terms and must be members of the bar only in counties with populations of 40,000 or more.

In 2001, the total crime rate was 5,569.7 per 100,000 population, including a total of 130,713 violent crimes and 782,517 property crimes in that year. As of June 2001, a total of 72,007 persons were serving prison sentences in state and federal institutions run by Florida's correctional authorities, an increase of 1.1% over the previous year. The state's incarceration rate stood at 439 per 100,000 inhabitants. Florida has a capital punishment statute, which was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1976. Between 1977 and 2003, 56 people were executed. In 2003 Florida had 381 persons under sentence of death, the 3rd-largest number after California and Texas.