The Court System
Litigate– taking a dispute to courtIn some cases, people decided to quickly to take a dispute to court. The issue could have been settles themselves or by a third party.Mediator– a person who tries to develop a solution acceptable to both sides of a disputeA mediator’s actions are advisory and are not legally binding.Arbitrator– a person who holds an informal hearing to determine what happenedAn arbitrator’s decision is legally binding and could be enforced by a court order if necessary.Using a third party is cheaper and quicker than going to trial.
Court– a governmental forum that administers justice under the lawCourts decide civil disputes and criminal cases.A court may award damages in civil cases, impose punishment in criminal cases, or grant other appropriate relief.Courts follow impartial and thorough procedures to make decisions.In a trial, witnesses are compelled to give testimony and the accused party (defendant) is allowed equal opportunity to argue their side of the case.The accusing party is called theplaintiff.
Trial Courts– the first court to hear a disputeOriginal Jurisdiction– power to hear the case in full for the first time and make the first rulingPeople involved in a trial:JudgeLawyersClerks – enter cases on the court calendar, keep records of proceedings, and compute court costsSheriffs or Marshals – serve as bailiffs who summon witnesses, keep order in court, and take steps to carry out judgmentsJuries – citizens sworn by a court to decide issues of fact in court cases
Appellate Courts– reviews decision of lower courts when a party claims an error was made during the previous proceedingAppellate courts do not hear witnesses and generally do not accept new evidence.Concerned with errors of law rather than questions of fact.Appellate courts review a transcript (verbatim record) of the trial and appellate briefs (arguments on the issues of law.After listening to the attorneys’ arguments and question attorneys about a case, the appellate court will decide if the decision should be:Affirmed (upheld)Reversed (overturned)Amended (changed)Remanded (sent back to trial court for corrective action or possibly a new trial)
Federal Court System
3 levels of federal courts – federal district courts, federal courts of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme CourtGeneral Jurisdiction– a court can hear almost any type of caseSpecial Jurisdiction– a court hears only one specific type of case
Federal District Courts
Lowest level of federal court with general jurisdiction.Trial court of the federal court system.Power to determine facts and make initial determinations of the law to use in deciding a case.Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over:Federal questions or cases that arise under the Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. treatiesLawsuits between citizens of different statesLawsuits between a U.S. citizen and a foreign nationLawsuits between a U.S. citizen and a citizen of a foreign nation (over $75,000 must be in dispute)
Federal Courts of Appeals
Have appellate jurisdiction over federal district courts, certain specialized federal courts, and many federal administrative agencies.No appellate court, not even the Supreme Court, can change the factual determinations of a jury.There are 13 federal courts of appeal:12 are responsible for an assigned area of the U.S.1 is dedicated to the “federal circuit” which handles patent cases and appeals from federal courts with special jurisdiction
The U.S. Supreme Court
Has both original and appellate jurisdiction.Original jurisdiction over “cases involving ambassadors, other public consuls, and cases in which a state will be one party.” (Constitution)Appellate jurisdiction over cases on appeal from federal courts of appeals and highest state courts.Writ of Certiorari– an order from the Supreme Court to turn over the record of the case for reviewJudicial Review (Marburyv. Madison)
State Court System
Courts of general jurisdiction – local trial courts, state appellate courts, and state supreme courtState court systems are very similar to the federal court system.In state appellate courts, cases are reviewed by a panel of no more than 3 judges.State supreme courts often operate in the same manner as state appellate courts.If there is a Constitutional or other federal issue involved, a further appeal can go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Specialized State Courts
Associate Circuit Courts– lower level courts that hear minor criminal cases, state traffic offenses, and lawsuits of no more than $25,000Municipal Courts– city courts that are usually divided into traffic and criminal divisions dealing with less serious violations of state laws within city limitsSmall Claims Courts– handles disputes in which small amounts (usually $2,500 or less) are involvedJuvenile Courts– special courts set up to hear cases involving those between the age of 13 and 18; most juvenile cases do not become public knowledge and focus on rehabilitation, not punishmentProbate Courts– courts that administer wills and estatesAlthough most cases in these specialized courts are not on record, the decisions can be appealed and sent to a circuit court for a trial on the record.
Steps in a Trial
1) Jury Selection2) Opening Statements3) Presentation of Evidence & Testimony of Witnesses4) Closing Arguments5) Presentation of Jury Instructions6) Deliberations7) Verdict
Jurors are selected for a courtroom from the pool of availablejurors.The judge and attorneys question thepotential jurors todetermine if any juror has a personal interest in the case,or aprejudice or bias that mayinfluence themas ajuror.The attorneys may challenge some jurors and ask thecourtto excuse them from the trial.12 is the most common amount of jurors hearing a case.
Each side(prosecution and defense) mayoutline the proof to be presented to the jury during thetrial.Opening statements are not evidence, only expectations of what each side expects the evidence to prove.
Presentation of Evidence & Testimony of Witnesses
The plaintiff'scaseis presented first. As each witness testifies, the side that called the witness asks questions in direct examination.Then the side that did not call the witness has an opportunity to ask questions in crossexamination.Physical evidence, such as documents, weapons or photographs are admitted into evidence and numbered for identification.During the trial, if one attorney objects to a question,they present theirobjection to the judge. These are questions of legal technicality and may be argued out ofthe hearing.Thejudge will advise the jury of any informationneededto make adecision, or instructthem todisregard what should not be considered.Aruling by the judge to sustain or overrule an objection does not mean that the judge is taking sides.Law is being appliedwhich permits or does not permit the question to be asked or the answer to the question.When each side has presented all their evidence, they "rest" their case.
The attorneys summarize the evidence and try topersuadethe jury to find in favor of their client.The plaintiff has the burden of proof and therefore has the opportunity to open and close the arguments.Burden of Proof– the prosecution must prove the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt
Presentation of Jury Instructions
Also called “charging the jury.”The judge reads the instructions of law to the jury, defines the issues the jurors must decide and informs them of the law that governs thecase.Jurors may not decide cases based on the laws as they would like them to be but must reach a verdict on the laws as theyare.
Deliberation & Verdict
The jury retires to the deliberation room to consider the case and reach averdict.The jury first elects aforemanwho will see that discussions are conducted in a sensible and orderly fashion, that all issues are fully and fairly discussed, and that every juror is given a fair chance to participate.If the jurors have a question during their deliberation, they may write it down and have the bailiff deliver it to the judge.When a verdict has been reached, the jurors agreeing to the verdict sign the form and notify the bailiff. The verdict is read by the clerk and the judge dismisses the jurors.Hung Jury-ajurythatcannot agreeupon a verdict after an extended period of deliberation and is unable to change its votes due to severe differences ofopinionThe result of a hung jury is often a mistrial. In criminal cases, the jury must come to a unanimous decision. In civil cases, the jury must come to a majority decision.The government may retry any defendant on any count (charge) in which the jury could not agree.