The Court System: Understanding a Typical Court Case (E)
A. Simple Court Terms
††††††††††† A courtroom is usually open to the public.† The litigants in a trial are the plaintiffs and the defendants.† In a civil case, the plaintiff files a complaint against the defendant.† In a criminal case, the plaintiff is always society, or the government, and the defendant is the individual(s) accused of a crime.† When a court is first to hear a case, it is said to have original jurisdiction.† These courts determine the facts of the case.† A court has appellate jurisdiction if the case is being heard on appeal from a lower court.† These courts do not review the factual record, but rather consider the legal issues involved.† If the court feels that there was in fact an error, the verdict, or judgement, from the lower court will be reversed or sent back to the original court for a new trial.
1. Who is the plaintiff in a civil case? criminal case?
2. Who is the defendant in a civil case? criminal case?
3. What is original jurisdiction?
4. What is appellate jurisdiction?
5. What is the purpose of an appellate court?
6. Can an appellate court change the verdict of the lower court?
7. What is a verdict?
8. Is a courtroom open to the public?
B. The Federal Court System
††††††††††† The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest level of the United States court system, having power over state laws and being limited in power by the Constitution. This court ensures uniformity in interpreting national laws, resolves conflicts amongst states, and maintains national supremacy in law.† The U.S. Supreme Court consists of 1 Chief Justice and 8 associate justices, who are all appointed by the President and given consent of the U.S. Senate, giving them a life term.† The U.S. Supreme Court holds both original and appellate jurisdiction, yet, unlike other federal courts, this court controls its own agenda.† Directly following is the court of appeals, carrying only appellate jurisdiction.† Next comes the District Court, which holds original jurisdiction only.† The District Court is the only federal court in which no trials are held and in which juries may be scheduled.† Finally, there is the tax court, which has a small claims division.† This court holds original jurisdiction only.†
1. Which court is the nationís highest court?
2. How long is the term for a Chief Justice and/or associate justice of the Supreme Court?
3. What type of jurisdiction does the Supreme Court hold?
4. What type of court(s) has appellate jurisdiction only?
5. What type of court(s) has original jurisdiction only?
6. What signifies the District Courts?
7. Which federal court has a small claims division?
C. The State Courts
††††††††††† The highest level of the state court system is the State Supreme Court, which has power over state laws, but not federal laws.† This court consists of 1 Chief Justice and 6 associate justices, who are all elected.† The court holds both original and appellate jurisdiction.† The court of appeals follow, holding appellate jurisdiction only.† Succeeding are the superior courts.† The superior courts are county courts, holding both original and appellate jurisdiction.† California therefore has 58 superior courts, one for each county.† Charges brought on by the state, as the plaintiff, against any individual accused of a crime, may be filed at this level.† The municipal courts follow, which are city courts, holding original jurisdiction only.† Two divisions of the municipal courts are small claims courts and traffic courts.
1. What is the highest state court?
2. What is the name of the court at county level?
3. What is the name of the court at city level?
4. What are the two divisions of the Municipal courts?
5. What court(s) have both original and appellate jurisdiction?
6. What court(s) have only original jurisdiction?
7. What court(s) have only appellate jurisdiction?
8. The State Supreme Court consists of how many justices?
D. Juries & Verdicts
††††††††††† There are three types of juries: grand, civil and criminal, although a trial may be held with or without a jury.† A grand jury consists of 23-25 members whose duty is to determine whether the accused should be tried for a crime.† The verdict must be derived from a majority vote amongst the jurors based on sufficient evidence.† Civil juries consist of 12 members or less, with 2 alternates.† In a civil trial, the jurors hear non-criminal cases.† The jurorsí decision is to determine whether the defendant has done injury or harm to the plaintiff or if harm can be avoided.† The verdict must be derived from a majority vote amongst the jurors and could result in an award of compensation for damage or something else of value or an injunction, which is an order prohibiting the performance of a specific act.† The standard of judgement must be based upon a preponderance of the evidence.† Criminal juries consist of 12 members, with 2 alternates. In a criminal trial, the jurorsí decision is to determine whether the accused should be punished for the crime in question.† The verdict must be derived from a unanimous vote amongst the jurors and could result in a conviction, acquittal or a hung jury.† The standard of judgement must be guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
1. How many jurors sit on a grand jury? civil jury? criminal jury?
2. What must a grand juryís decision be based upon?
3. What must a criminal juryís decision be based upon?
4. What must a civil juryís decision be based upon?
5. What are the possible outcomes in a civil trial?
6. What are the possible outcomes in a criminal trial?
7. What vote is needed in a criminal trial?
8. What vote is needed in a civil trial?
E. Types of Crimes
††††††††††† There are two different types of crimes classified in criminal cases: felonies and misdemeanors.† Felonies are the most serious crimes, punishable with death or imprisonment in a federal or state prison for more than one year.† Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, punishable by a fine and/or a term in the county jail of up to one year.† Civil juries do not imprison individuals, but rather award compensation for damages or enforce an injunction, which prohibits certain actions of the defendant.
1. What are the two types of crimes?
2. Which type of crime is more serious of the two?
3. Which type of crime usually results in sentences of less than one year?
4. Which type of jury determines guilt or innocence in a felony trial?
5. Which type of jury primarily awards monetary damages?