State courts in Pennsylvania are established in pyramid system that is similar to the federal court system in that it has different levels for trial courts, intermediate appellate courts and the highest appellate court in the system. At the lowest tiers of the state system are the trial courts. Trial courts are also called courts of original jurisdiction because they are where civil and criminal cases begin.

The Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts in Pennsylvania. They are divided into 60 judicial districts that are scattered throughout the state. A person charged with committing a violation of state criminal law will make a first appearance, referred to as a preliminary arraignment, in one of the magisterial district courts or municipal courts before the case would eventually be sent to one of the Courts of Common Pleas for trial.

Appeals from cases originating in one of the trial courts go to either of the two intermediate appellate courts: The Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court. Appeals in criminal cases are heard in the Superior Court. The highest appellate court in Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court, hears appeals from the state’s intermediate appellate courts. An appeal to the Supreme Court may only be taken with permission of the court except in a limited number of circumstances, such as cases in which a defendant was sentenced to death.