The basic structure of the present court system was established by an 1891 constitutional amendment. The amendment established the Supreme Court as the highest state appellate court for civil matters, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which makes the final determination in criminal matters. District courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction. The geographical area served by each district court is established by specific statute and determined by population of the area.
In addition to these state courts, the Texas Constitution provides for a county court, presided over by the county judge. The county judge also serves as head of the county commissioners court, the governing body of the county. To aid the constitutional county court with its judicial functions, the Legislature has established statutory county courts, designated as county courts at law. Smith County has three county courts at law.