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The American Court System

The American Court System

The American Judicial System draws largely from the Common Law System of the English. However, it has the basic features that any other judicial system in the world has, in that one side is always represented by a plaintiff, while the opposite side stands for the defendant. In this case, each side presents their arguments before an impartial jury with the main intention of destroying each other’s evidence. In case of an offense of a criminal nature, the prosecutor is required by law to act as a plaintiff. The hearing and determination is done by a jury who are expected to interpret the law in relation to the case of concern, making sure that all related clauses in the constitution are taken into account. This is basically the process of the pursuit of justice, with lawyers representing their clients in matters related to legal arguments (Farber & Sherry, 2008).

The judicial models generally differ because each state has adopted its own model and that it could be completely different from that of the others. Nonetheless, due to the numerous states in the United States, there often occur certain regional variations in the interpretation of the law in different federal courts. Generally, the American model is a three tier system. Introduction of a court case often starts at the lowest level, which is the District Court. This court has the responsibility to hear and determine all cases before parties who are not satisfied with their ruling can proceed to the Court of Appeals. At that point, the Court of Appeals would assign three judges to hear new arguments and make a determination with regards to the provisions of the constitution. In case any part would be uncomfortable with the ruling of the Court of Appeals, they would have the final avenue to express their dissatisfaction - the Supreme Court. This is the final court and its decisions are final. Ideally, this is the basic model of the American Court System, although several variations occur from one state to another. The United States Federal Courts basically compose the judiciary arm of the federal government, which operates under the federal law. They are subdivided into three divisions; among them are District Courts, Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court (Neocleous, 2004).

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The Federal and State Court Systems

The United States Federal Court System has the Supreme Court as the most superior component that handles all forms of appeals. This basically consists of a Chief Justice and a total of eight other Associate Judges. Below the Supreme Court is the Court of Appeals and District courts. Although these courts work independently of the state courts, they are never completely independent of one another as they constantly interact. This is quite often when criminals attempt to escape from one state to another in an attempt to dodge the state’s security intelligence. In such a case, the federal court would assume the responsibility of hearing and determining the case as it involves multiple states. It particularly becomes impossible for a single state to handle such a crime due to the fact that different states have different constitutional frameworks within which their judicial systems operate. This essentially implies that superior constitutional provisions have to be applied if the principle of uniform application of justice is to be upheld. Nonetheless, both levels have the sole responsibility to solve legal disputes and vindicate legal rights of all citizens without bias (Friedman, 2005).

The Federal Court is generally categorized into two functional arms. These are the Article III Courts and the Congress Courts. For instance, Article III Courts were created based on the constitutional provisions contained in the article III of the United States Constitution and hence their name. This group encompasses the U.S. District Courts, the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the United States Supreme Courts. In addition, they include special courts like the US Court of Claims and the US Court of International Trade. These courts are special in the sense that they are not included under courts of general jurisdiction. As such, their mandate is limited to hearing and determining cases of a specified nature. However, courts of general jurisdiction can handle any case as long as it relates to the law of the land. The management of the Article III Courts is a responsibility of judges who are appointees of the President of the United States. However, the President must act within the advice and consent of the Senate. Although the limits of their terms are not specified, the judges only serve for the period during which they command public confidence and possess the required threshold of moral authority. Conversely, the Congress Courts are established by the Congress with a view to speeding up the administration of justice. They include the Magistrate Courts, the US Tax Courts, the US Courts of Veterans’ Appeals, and the US Courts of Military Appeals. These courts are headed by judicial officers who are appointed by the President in consultation with the US Senate to serve a term of around 15 years (Morisson, 1996).

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There is at least one District Court in each state, with large states like California having a total of four. These are basically the trial courts, which are often referred to as the courts of original jurisdiction. Understandably, most cases of federal nature begin in these courts and proceed up the hierarchy. In most cases, case determinations are done by a jury or a judge for all civil cases. The US Circuit Courts also serve up to 12 circuits in various regions of the United States. For instance, the Court of Appeals for Federal Circuit, which is based in Washington, serves legal matters of federal concern. In addition, the Court of Claims is based in Washington DC and determines cases where individual citizens have sued the government over various issues ranging from human rights to social freedom. On the other hand, the Court of International Trade is based in New York City from where it hears and determines cases bordering on international trade disputes. Although most cases are handled by the special category of the U.S. courts, most of them operate with the consent of the involved parties. For instance, the Magistrate Court deals with criminal and civil matters, but must first seek a mutual consent of both parties involved in a legal suit (Langeluttig, 1927).

Generally, the State Court System has no specific description as they differ markedly from one state to another. However, they are basically made up of two sets of courts under the category of trial courts; trial courts of general jurisdiction and trial courts of limited jurisdiction like traffic or family courts. In addition, there are intermediate appellate courts in certain states besides the superior state court which adopts different names depending on the state. Although the general functional structure is quite similar to that of federal courts, judges serving in these courts are not appointed to serve for life, but for a specified number of years that may differ depending on the state. Arguably, this may imply that service delivery in these courts is more efficient than in federal courts where judges serve for life. Nonetheless, the principle of accountability and moral authority restrains these sets of judges in a similar way. Essentially, this is why public retain confidence in both systems in spite of their functional differences, especially with regards to the appointment of judges (Friedman, 2005).

The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction specifically deal with a particular nature of court cases. They are often based in a county courthouse and the court proceedings are supervised by a single judge, instead of a jury. The courts that fall under this category of State Courts include Probate Court, which has the mandate to administer the estates of deceased persons on behalf of their families. However, their functions take into account all the provisions of the deceased person’s will or the state law in case the deceased did not write a will. Besides, there is Family Court that hears and determines matters relating to adoption, divorce, custody, and child support. Although their functions are quite limited, these courts often record a lot of activity, especially considering that cases of this nature have recently been on the rise. For instance, the Family Courts are always full of activities due to the fact that divorce and related issues like child support have become quite prevalent. There also exist the Traffic Courts which deal with minor traffic offences, as they require speedy determination and the Juvenile Courts that are concerned with cases involving persons between the age of 18 and 21. Furthermore, there exist the Small Claims Courts that is handle cases involving individuals and the Municipal Courts that deal with offenders against city ordinances. The major courts in the State Court System are Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction that are charged with the responsibility of hearing and determining civil and criminal cases that are beyond the courts of limited jurisdiction. Usually, the court proceedings are supervised by a single judge who acts in the presence of a jury. However, the proceedings are clearly recorded for possible use in the Court of Appeal (Morisson, 1996).

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The Intermediate Appellate Courts occupy a higher hierarchy after the Highest State Courts. Although they only exist in some states, these courts serve the purpose of hearing appeals emanating from both the courts of limited jurisdiction and courts of general jurisdiction. In fact, the law obliges the courts to hear these appeals as they are usually related to matters of human rights. However, such appeals must be related to procedural mistakes or legal errors that might have been committed by the trial courts. In light of this, these courts neither accept new evidence nor review the facts as delivered by the parties concerned. This usually occurs in the presence of a panel of judges. In addition, there are the Supreme Courts in certain states that have intermediate courts, as the Highest State Courts while states that do not have intermediate courts call them Courts of Appeal as they hear appeals related to issues of human rights. Basically, these courts function in a similar manner to the intermediate appellate courts in the sense that they only deal with appeals related to legal mistakes and not facts. In some states, these courts have the additional responsibility to hear and determine cases of electoral nature or controversies relating to public appointments (Neocleous, 2004). 

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