AskDefine | Define courthouse

Dictionary Definition



1 a government building that houses the offices of a county government
2 a building that houses judicial courts

User Contributed Dictionary



court + house


  1. A public building housing courts of law.
  2. The public building where most American counties have their county offices.

Extensive Definition

For the Arlington, Virginia neighborhood, see Courthouse, Virginia
A courthouse (sometimes spelled court house) is a building that is home to a local court of law and often the regional county government as well, although this is not the case in some larger cities. The term is common in North America. In some other English speaking countries buildings which house courts are simply called "courts".

United States

In most counties in the United States, the local trial courts conduct their business in a centrally located courthouse which may also house county governmental offices. The courthouse is usually located in the county seat, although large metropolitan counties may have satellite or annex offices for their courts.
In some cases this building may be renamed in some way or its function divided as between a judicial building and administrative office building. Many judges also officiate at civil marriage ceremonies in their courthouse chambers. In some places, the courthouse also contains the main administrative office for the county government, or when a new courthouse is constructed, the old one will be used for other local government offices.
Each United States district court also has a federally owned building where its courtrooms, chambers and clerk's offices are located. Many federal judicial districts are further divided into divisions, which may also have their own courthouses, although sometimes the smaller divisional court facilities are located in buildings that also house other agencies or offices of the United States government. There is even a US District Court in Yosemite National Park.
The courthouse is part of the iconography of American life and is equivalent to the city hall as the symbol of the municipium in European free cities, then often shown in American cinema (recently in "Peyton Place" or "Back to the Future"). They range from small-town rural buildings with a few rooms to huge metropolitan courthouses that take up large plots of land. The style of American architecture used varies, with common styles including federal, Greek Revival, neoclassicist, and modern. Due to concerns over potential violence, many courthouses in American cities often have security checkpoints where all incoming persons are searched for weapons, normally through the use of an X-ray machine for all bags and a walk-through metal detector, much like those found at airports.
For example, the Los Angeles Superior Court added such checkpoints to all entrances to its main courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles after a woman was shot and killed by her ex-husband in open court in September 1995. The Supreme Court of California ruled in 2002 that Los Angeles County (which at the time was responsible for maintaining the courthouses) was not liable to her three children under the California Government Tort Claims Act.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the federal government proceeded to heavily fortify all large federal buildings, including many urban courthouses.
Some courthouses in areas with high levels of violent crime have redundant layers of security. For example, when the California Supreme Court hears oral arguments at its branch courtroom in Los Angeles, visitors must pass through one security checkpoint to enter the building, and another to enter the courtroom.


In Canada each municipality constructs its own courthouse, or several in the case of large cities. In smaller communities the court is in the same building as the city hall and other municipal offices. In the past many courthouses also included the local prison.


See also

courthouse in German: Courthouse
courthouse in French: Courthouse
courthouse in Norwegian: Tinghus
courthouse in Portuguese: Fórum
courthouse in Simple English: Courthouse

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

capitol, city hall, community center, county building, county courthouse, court, courtroom, dock, fire station, firehouse, jury box, municipal building, police headquarters, police station, precinct house, statehouse, town hall, town house, witness box, witness stand
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