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Court System


STATE AND LOCAL COURTS

JUDGES

  • There are about 30,000 state court judges in the US

  • Selected in four ways:

  • Popular election (most states)

  • Election by the legislature

  • Appointment by the governor

  • Combination of appointment and popular election.

  • Terms: limited terms

JURISDICTION

  • Most legal cases in the U.S. are resolved in state courts

  • Crimes under state laws

  • Family law, inheritance, personal injury, property, traffic,

  • State constitutional issues

  • And most cases involving federal law

LOCAL COURTS

  • Decide cases involving local law (like littering or parking)

STATE COURTS

  • State courts decide cases of state law

  • Criminal, family, contract, juvenile law

  • Three types of state courts

  • Minor courts (justice courts, municipal courts, magistrate courts, inferior trial courts)

  • Specialized to deal with specific types of legal issues

  • Family courts, traffic courts, small claims courts, probate courts (inheritance)

  • General trial court (superior court, county court, district court, court of common pleas)

  • Civil or criminal

  • Appeals Courts (state supreme court)

FEDERAL COURT

CONSTITUTION

  • Article III gives Congress the power to create lower courts including federal district courts, federal courts of appeals and US Court of International Trade.

  • "The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."

JURISDICTION

  • Federal courts have limited jurisdiction

  • They hear cases with questions about federal law or federal constitution

  • Sometimes here cases that deal with state law if parties are from different states and large amount of money is in question.

  • Disputes between states

  • Treaties with foreign nations

  • Bankruptcy

  • Admiralty and maritime

  • Antitrust

  • Banking regulation

  • Foreign diplomats

  • Handle more than 375,000 cases a year and more than 1 million bankruptcy petitions.

JUDGES

  • There are 852 federal judges in the US

  • Federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate

  • Serve for life (unless they resign, retire or are impeached)

FEDERAL DISTRICT COURTS

  • There are 94 federal judicial districts

  • Some states have one (like Wyoming, Kansas, Minnesota etc.)

  • Others have many (like California, Texas, Oklahoma etc.)

  • They handle both criminal and civil cases

  • Also bankruptcy and tax courts

  • JUDGES

  • Each district has at least one US District Judge

  • Appointed by President, confirmed by Senate for a life term.

  • There are over 670 district judges nationwide

REGIONAL CIRCUITS

  • Trial courts are grouped into 12 regional circuits

  • First: Maine, NH, MA

  • Second: NY, CT, VT

  • Third: PA, NJ, DE

  • Ninth: Largest, WA, MT, ID, OR, NV, AZ, AK, HI

  • JUDGES

  • Each circuit court has multiple judges (First = 6, Ninth = 29)

  • Appointed by president, confirmed by Senate, serve for life.

  • PROCESS

  • Appeals to Circuit Court first handed by a panel (3 circuit court judges)

  • Parties file "briefs" to the court arguing why trial court's decision should be "affirmed" or "reversed"

  • After briefs are filed, the court will schedule "oral argument" - lawyers make arguments and answer judge's questions.

  • Each has a federal court of appeals (U.S Circuit Court)

  • Handle appeals from within the circuit to decide whether the law was applied correctly.

  • Also special Court of Appeals that hear particular topics

  • International trade, patent law, money claims against fed. govt., veterans issues.


MILITARY COURTS

JURISDICTION

  • Justice for armed services

CONSTITUTION

  • Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress authority to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces."

  • Overseen by the president as commander in chief of armed forces.

CRIMINAL CODE

  • Regulation called Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

  • Similar to criminal codes in states but also has punishment for specific military conduct (like failure to perform an official duty or refusing to obey a lawful order)

COURT MARTIAL

  • Violations of UCMJ heard in proceedings called courts-martial trials

  • Trials consist of judges and attorneys drawn from legal officers of military branch in which violation occurred

APPEALS

  • US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

  • Panel of five civilian judges appointed by the president for 15 year terms.

  • Cases from this court can be appealed to the Supreme Court

TRIBAL COURTS

JURISDICTION

  • Operate on Native American reservations

  • Broad range of criminal and civil cases involving both Native Americans and non-Native Americans

  • Jurisdiction is based on location of offense (on or off reservation) status of plaintiffs and defendants (Native American or not)

  • Federal courts have jurisdiction over many felonies committed by Native Americans on the reservation

SENTENCING

  • Limited to imprisonment for less than a year

  • And fine less than $5000

  • Tribal courts cannot prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on the reservation.

SUPREME COURT

PURPOSE

  • Primary function is to resolve disputes about the meaning of federal law and the Constitution.

  • Must make sure federal law is uniform

  • Power of Judicial Review (deciding whether federal and state laws are constitutional

  • Right given in 1803 by Marbury v. Madison

  • Also decides what a federal law means

  • Must wait for a trial to decide

CONSTITUTION

  • Article III, Section 2

JURISDICTION

  • Appeal

  • Almost 9,000 cases are appealed to Supreme Court every year.

  • Only 80 are decided each term (less than 1%)

  • Cases where the courts have decided the same issue in different ways

  • Cases where the decision will have a national impact (abortion, privacy, death penalty etc.)

  • Business cases that involve billions of dollars.

  • More than 1/2 are people appealing criminal convictions when raises a question about federal law or the U.S. Constitution and answered differently by lower courts.

  • How cases are decided

  • Petitioners ask for appellate court to grant a writ of certiorari

  • Writ of certiorari = Supreme Court requests records from inferior court

  • Rule of Four - If four of the nine justices agree to hear the case then the petition for certiorari is granted and case is schedule

  • Original Jurisdiction

  • Cases involving representatives of foreign governments

  • Certain cases in which a state is a party


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