Contact the NJ State Archives
NJ State Archives
P.O. Box 307
Trenton, NJ 08625-0307
225 West State Street - 2nd Floor
Chancery case, Demarest
vs. Demarest, 1822.
New Jersey's judicial system prior to implementation of the 1947 State Constitution was extremely complicated, with many overlapping jurisdictions - some extending back into English common law. General statements relative to the functions of New Jersey's many former courts are provided along with the links below. See the organizational charts linked below for further information. The modern court system was effectuated 15 September 1948 under the new state constitution.
- Organizational Chart for Pre-1948 Court System
- Organizational Chart for Post-1948 Court System
- Chancery Court of New Jersey - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over equity cases (chiefly), including property disputes. Also held statutory jurisdiction over divorce cases and delegated jurisdiction over lunacy proceedings. Replaced by the Superior Court Chancery Division in 1948.
- Prerogative Court of New Jersey - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over estate disputes and probate of estates with property in more than one county.
- Supreme Court of New Jersey - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over: original common law cases, including debt and trespass; treason and sedition during the Revolutionary War; naturalization during the colonial period; appeals, including cases from the Courts of Common Pleas. Post-1948 jurisdiction is appellate and administrative. Consult the searchable Index to Supreme Court Case Files, 1704-1844.
- Circuit Court - This court met on county circuit and was presided over by a justice of the Supreme Court. Its jurisdiction (pre-1948) was concurrent with the Supreme Court for non-criminal cases within the county; it also received appeals from several county courts.
- Court of Oyer & Terminer -This court met on the county circuit and was presided over by justices of the Supreme Court. It had jurisdiction (pre-1948) over crimes and offenses of an indictable or presentable nature (i.e., presentable before a grand jury), and over jail delivery.
- Court of Errors and Appeals - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over appeals from the Chancery, Supreme, Prerogative and Circuit Courts.
- Superior Court of New Jersey and Miscellaneous - Post-1948 general jurisdiction over all cases. Includes the Law Division, Chancery Division, Probate Division, Appellate Division and county/regional vicinages. Probate Division responsible for post-1900 estate filings.
- Court of Pardons (Secretary of State) - Comprised of the Governor, Chancellor, and members of the Court of Errors and Appeals. This was actually an executive branch body, with the Secretary of State serving as court clerk. "Jurisdiction"(pre-1948) was over pardons and commutations of sentence.
- County Courts (see County Government Records), which include:
- Courts of Common Pleas - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over common law cases, including debt and trespass; naturalization; licensing of taverns and peddlers; name changes, etc.
- Courts of Small Causes - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over minor debt cases; decided by a Justice of the Peace.
- Justices Courts - Pre-1948 jurisdiction over minor civil cases, including recovery of penalties; decided by a Justice of the Peace.
- District Court - Pre-1948 jurisdiction similar to that of the Court of Small Causes, but for large cities (over 20,000 in population per 1898 statute; two in cities of over 100,000 in population).
- Orphans Courts (filings under Surrogates Offices) - Jurisdiction over probate and estate-administration controversies, guardianship and adoption. The court was presided over by a Common Pleas judge; administration, along with filing of estate-related documents, was vested in the County Surrogate.
- Court of Oyer & Terminer recordings, Pre-1948 - The County Clerk (i.e., Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas) recorded Court of Oyer & Terminer activity at the county circuit level. See above for court jurisdiction.
- Circuit Court recordings, Pre-1948 - The County Clerk (i.e., Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas) recorded Circuit Court activity at the county circuit level. See above for court jurisdiction.