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Chapter Topics The History of State Courts The Organization of State Courts Types of State Courts Court Reorganization and Reform Drug Courts Consequences.

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Presentation on theme: "Chapter Topics The History of State Courts The Organization of State Courts Types of State Courts Court Reorganization and Reform Drug Courts Consequences."— Presentation transcript:


2 Chapter Topics The History of State Courts The Organization of State Courts Types of State Courts Court Reorganization and Reform Drug Courts Consequences of Court Organization

3 The History of State Courts the organization of American courts reflects but does not mirror their English heritage Colonial Courts simple courts that followed the form but not the substance of English courts adjudicated cases and performed administrative tasks created as needed and reflected local customs

4 Early American Courts after American Revolution power shifted from the courts to legislatures former colonists were skeptical of judicial power critics complained when courts declared legislative acts unconstitutional (judicial review) over time courts began to emerge as an independent political institution

5 Courts in a Modernizing Society industrialization increased volume and types of litigation courts still reflected a rural society but had to change—specialized courts were created (e.g., small claims, juvenile, family relations) in 1931 Chicago had 556 independent courts A Complex Court Structure the haphazard expansion created a confusing array of courts and jurisdiction

6 A Complex Court Structure state and local response was to create MORE courts new-specialized courts: small claims, juvenile, family growth was sporadic and haphazard growth created political opportunities for judges and administrative staff resulted in complex and confusing system of state courts

7 Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction: Lower Courts Lower level courts whose jurisdiction is limited to minor civil and criminal cases. also called inferior courts or lower courts 85% of all judicial bodies in the U.S., n = 13,544 with nearly 18,038 judicial officers decide a restricted range of cases and controlled by local government (county, city, district, etc.) not courts of record—no official verbatim transcript of the proceedings is kept appeals go to courts of general jurisdiction and are termed trial de novo

8 Criminal Cases process millions of misdemeanor cases each year involving: disturbing the peace, shoplifting, public drunkenness, speeding, etc. generally impose a max. fine of $1,000 and no more than one year in jail many handle preliminary stages of felony cases—e.g., arraignments, setting bail, appointing counsel for indigents, conducting preliminary examinations

9 Civil Cases usually decide cases under a set amount— often referred to as small claims limits range from $1,500 to $15,000— the median limit is $3,000 use streamlined procedures to provide quick, inexpensive processing small claims cases are less formal than other cases small claims are a large portion of civil filings every year

10 Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction Trial courts responsible for major criminal and civil cases also called major trial courts (est. 2,044 with 11,390 staff) decide matters not specifically delegated to lower courts considerable variation across states with jurisdiction geographically defined no shortage of business—95 million cases compared to 2.4 federal cases

11 Criminal Cases decide primarily street crimes (compare to federal courts) hear felony cases (violent and nonviolent, e.g., murder, rape, robbery, burglary, theft) number of cases has been growing mostly because of the War on Drugs most criminal cases do not go to trial because defendant pleads guilty debate is about what penalty to apply not guilt or innocence

12 Civil Cases outnumber criminal by two to one tort cases (personal injury) do not dominate filings common cases include: domestic relations, estate, personal injury, contracts domestic cases relate to the home (e.g., divorce, custody, support, etc.) estate cases (probate) involve matters dealing with wills, estates, assets, etc. most estate cases present the judge with little controversy

13 Civil Cases tort cases (often personal injury) – private or civil wrong in which the defendant’s actions cause the injury to the plaintiff or to property may include physical injury, but also includes contracts, property rights, and mortgage foreclosures tort cases are 5% of all filings but 66% of trials number of cases being heard is constant

14 Intermediate Courts of Appeals created to relieve caseload growth (39 states) must hear all properly filed appeals, are the final say in most cases structure varies—geographically (statewide or regional) and types of cases (some hear only civil or criminal others both) number of judges varies and most employ three judge panels most trial court decisions are affirmed

15 Courts of Last Resort usually referred to as State Supreme Court – specific names vary by state number of judges varies (5-0, avg. = 7) all have some original jurisdiction mostly discretionary jurisdiction—choose the cases they will hear ultimate review board for state law and constitution similar processes as the U.S. Supreme Court but with more cases

16 Research on State Supreme Courts a relatively new focus of political scientists are important policy makers focuses on why state supreme courts operate the way they do judges have been shown to react to case facts, electoral conditions, and other political institutions in the state

17 Justice of the Peace Courts origins in small, isolated English towns purpose was to create simple and speedy justice applied by local community most are nonlawyer judges, locally elected with short terms and low salaries critics argues JPs are outdated reforms focus on upgrading the personnel or abolishing the system

18 Upgrading the Personnel job is low status within the legal system JPs may not have legal training reformer suggestions include: training programs abolishing justice of the peace courts

19 Abolishing JP Courts major obstacle is influence of powerful nonlawyer judges who like their jobs JPs are accessible justice advocates believe common sense justice practiced in a local community is desirable they are “people’s courts”

20 Municipal Courts Are the urban counterparts of the rural justice of the peace courts. big city case volume required more courts political machines viewed courts as a source of patronage often tainted by corruption or scandals progressive era (1920s and 30s) reformers tried to remove politics from municipal courts

21 The Assembly Line urban court caseloads require quick dispositions the response was to create shortcuts— create shortcuts to resolve cases quickly initial appearances are usually the final one e.g., traffic court defendants plead guilty are sentenced in less than a minute and the next case is called few trials are held, attorneys are rare and the focus is on sentencing uniform penalties are common

22 Is the Process the Punishment? a new look at municipal courts sees the process as less chaotic than it looks and a court trying to respond to problems not crimes to others the process is the punishment waiting in jail paying a bail bondsman hiring a private attorney lost wages punishments may vary across jurisdictions

23 Juvenile Courts unique in that they blend civil and criminal product of the Progressive movement underlying philosophy is legal doctrine of parens patriae (state as parent) all states have juvenile courts, regular judges may rotate through this assignment or there may be specialized judges 2.2 juveniles arrested (2003), but from 1994-2003 juvenile arrests for violent crime are decreasing

24 Juvenile Courts age range less than 16-18, may be tried as an adult for some crime most cases are delinquency, status offenses and child victim delinquency – violation of criminal law that would be a crime if committed by and adult (e.g., theft, burglary, drugs) -penalties include probation or juvenile institution - a large portion of juvenile matters

25 Juvenile Courts status offenses involve acts illegal only for juveniles (e.g., runaway, truancy, possession of alcohol, curfew) sentence may be juvenile detention child victim petitions involving neglect or dependency, in court but not the fault of the juvenile court acts as social services agency

26 Juvenile Courts two standards for deciding appropriate disposition best interest of the child – In re Gault decision required the application of 14 th amendment to juvenile hearings (due process) best interest of the community – some believe juvenile courts should be less adversarial, more treatment oriented—the trend is to more formal and systematic procedures

27 Court Unification reformers believe multiplicity of courts is inefficient and inequitable they call for a unified court system which reflects five general principles 1.Simplified court structure – one county- level court and three tier state system 2.Centralized Administration – state supreme court provides administrative leadership, hierarchy of authority

28 Court Unification 3. Centralized Rule Making – state supreme court should adopt uniform rules for all state courts, shifts control from legislatures to judges and lawyers 4. Centralized Judicial Budgeting – state judicial administrator prepares single budget, funds allocated by state rather than local boards 5. Statewide Financing – courts often get less money than they need from local jurisdictions, statewide financing could alleviate this problem

29 Politics of Court Reorganization most states have unified court system but not necessarily all five conditions four tier systems (rather than three) no statewide financing difficulty eliminating unneeded courts support comes from legal elites opposition comes from local governments who worry about loss of control overall, court reformers have made considerable success

30 Court Reform: The Next Steps better to organize courts from bottom up, involving those most affected must understand the realities of the courthouse (law in action) avoid elite bias, tendency to try and label certain types of cases as “garbage”, consider all parties involved in legal proceedings new efforts focus on how to improve the quality of justice often with alternative types of courts

31 Drug Courts response to War on Drugs, and efforts to arrest, prosecute and imprison drug offenders result of experimentation by judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and others Treatment Approach to Drug Offenders premised on belief that treatment will reduce the likelihood of rearrest sentence tied to drug treatment or dismissed if treatment is completed

32 Drug Courts Miami reports drug court treatment programs have lower incarceration rates, less frequent rearrests, longer time to rearrest 33% reduction in rearrest rates for graduates of Miami drug court other changes include efforts to advance “therapeutic justice”—focusing on therapy instead of punishment variants on drug court—e.g., focusing exclusively on drugs and families or juveniles

33 Evaluating Drug Courts continued growth but also increased costs unintended consequences? one judge claims drug courts have increased the number of prisoners in jail on drug charges greater likelihood that drug cases would be prosecuted and heard resulted in more arrests, leading to more cases how to measure success? completion of programs can take a long time

34 Decentralized and Choice of Courts 50 state court systems with significant differences but also similarities with so many courts lawyers may decide to shop for the most friendly court e.g., for federal civil cases litigants may choose which circuit to file in—the oil and gas industry prefers to litigate in the fifth circuit which is home to much oil and natural gas industry, will the other party get a fair hearing?

35 Local Control and Local Corruption courts are still locally based and they reflect the local communities they serve e.g., the application of state law often has a local flavor, jurors in different areas may have very different opinions and values local control has advantages—links courts to the people they serve but disadvantages too—greater opportunity for corruption and graft, more opportunities for injustice

36 Conclusion state caseload growth has been tremendous response to this growth has not always been well planned or evaluated common elements include basic three tier system with specialized courts (e.g., juvenile) are a common target of judicial reformers state courts do not exist in isolation and have proven to be highly adaptable

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