Puerto Rico's highest court, the Supreme Court, consists of a chief justice and six associate justices, appointed, like all other judges, by the governor with the consent of the senate and serving until compulsory retirement at age 70. The court may sit in separate panels for some purposes, but not in cases dealing with the constitutionality of commonwealth law, for which the entire body convenes. Decisions of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico regarding US constitutional questions may be appealed to the US Supreme Court.
The Circuit Court of Appeals consists of 33 justices named by the governor with the consent of the senate. Decisions of the court may revise those of the trial courts of first instance. The Circuit Court of Appeals was created in 1994 as an intermediary tribunal between the courts of first instance and the Supreme Court. The tribunal sits in San Juan.
The nine superior courts are the main trial courts; superior court judges are appointed to 12-year terms. In 2003, superior courts were divided into 13 districts. These courts have original jurisdiction in civil cases not exceeding $10,000 and in minor criminal cases. District courts also hear preliminary motions in more serious criminal cases. Municipal judges, serving for five years, and justices of the peace, in rural areas, decide cases involving local ordinances.
San Juan is the seat of the US District Court for Puerto Rico, which has the same jurisdiction as federal district courts on the US mainland.
The death penalty is constitutionally forbidden; however, in 2003, the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act was being invoked in a case involving two men accused of murder and extortion. The last execution in Puerto Rico took place in 1927.