The common or general court system has three basic levels: Courts of First Instance, Courts of Appeal, and the Court of Cassation. In criminal cases, those three levels take the form of summary courts (misdemeanors and petty offenses), criminal courts (felonies), and the Court of Cassation.


Misdemeanors are defined as crimes punishable by up to three years of detention, which in the case of multiple offenses may be aggregated by being ordered to be served consecutively. Misdemeanor (or summary) courts consist of a single judge attached to the court of first instance for that district. Appeals are to a misdemeanor court of appeals, consisting of three judges from the court of first instance.  

Felony cases are tried before criminal courts, which are a circuit of the Court of Appeals and consist of panels of three judges of the Court of Appeals sitting as trial judges. (In felony cases, Court of Appeals judges do not act as appellate judges as their title implies, but rather as trial judges, which can be confusing.) 

Misdemeanor and criminal court judges have the authority to conduct their own supplemental investigation into the facts if they are not satisfied with the evidence presented by the public prosecution and defense, or if new factual issues arise in the course of the trial. At the other extreme, trial judges can accept the evidence as presented by the parties in the court file without any requirement to hear live testimony from witnesses if not requested to do so by a party. In that manner, a large number of misdemeanor and even some felony cases can be and routinely are fully tried in a single day. Other trials may unfold over the course of months, with trial sessions being held only one or two days a month, all in the discretion of the court.

The Court of Cassation is the supreme court of the common court system, and is comprised of a President and about 450 Vice-Presidents who hear criminal and civil appeals in panels of five. Appeals before the Court of Cassation are limited to issues of law, not fact. But, “law” means more than just procedure. For example, criminal convictions lacking sufficient supporting evidence to justify a finding of guilt can be (and often are) reversed as erroneous as a matter of law for violating fundamental standards of due process.