The Basic Principles of American Court Organization Jurisdiction Trial and Appellate Courts Dual Courts
JURISDICTION The power of a court to decide a dispute. Types of Jurisdiction Geographical Subject Matter Hierarchical
TRIAL and APPELLATE COURTS Trial Courts All cases begin here. Finders of fact. Plea or trial. Witnesses appear only in trial courts. Opinions are rare. Appellate Courts Ensure that trial courts interpret the law correctly. May make new law. No trial, witnesses, or juries. Opinions are common and many are written.
DUAL COURT SYSTEM The Dual Court System includes one national court plus separate court systems for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Question Is our dual court system effective or should we revert to a singular system?
The FEDERAL COURT STRUCTURE U.S. Magistrate Courts U.S. District Courts U.S. Courts of Appeals U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGES The position was created in 1968 and is housed within the judicial branch, however, they are not Article III judges. There jurisdiction includes both civil and criminal cases. They are similar to state trial court judges of limited jurisdiction – except, they do not try and sentence felony defendants, however, they can participate in all felony trial stages leading up to trial, i.e., preliminary hearings, bail, and issuing search warrants. They are selected by district court judges. They review but do not decide prisoner petitions.
U.S. DISTRICT COURTS There are 94 U.S. District Courts in the U.S. with at least one in every state. They are courts of original jurisdiction for all major violations of federal criminal law. The President nominates district court judges and they are approved by the Senate – usually, they serve for life terms. They handle both civil and criminal cases plus prisoner petitions. There is one U.S. Attorney per district court who is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate (they serve at the pleasure of the President). District court judges are assisted by bankruptcy judges who are adjuncts of the court appointed by the court of appeals for 14 year terms.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS What are some different types of ‘federal’ civil cases? And, What consequences do they have for state and local criminal justice officials?
U.S. COURTS OF APPEALS The U.S. Courts of Appeals are Article III courts. U.S. Courts of Appeals are also considered as ‘courts of last resort’ which include 12 circuits. Courts of appeals judges are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. Three-judge panels* Key term: En banc.
U.S. SUPREME COURT The U.S. Supreme Court is an Article III court that selects which cases it will decide. Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The U.S. Supreme Court is composed of nine justices: eight associate and one chief justice. Writ of certiorari and the rule of four. The legal issue must involve a federal question; either a violation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution. They handle approximately 80 cases per year and their decisions are geared to set policy for the entire nation.
SPECIALIZED COURTS Constitutional courts – Article III courts. Full-time judges that are appointed (lifetime). Examples include: district courts and courts of appeal. Legislative courts – Article I courts. Full-time judges that are appointed (specific term). Examples include: bankruptcy judges and magistrates. Types of Specialized Courts Tribal Courts (Article I) Tax Courts (Article I) Court of Federal Claims (Article I) Court of Veterans Appeal (Article I) Court of Int’l Trade (Article III) U.S. Court of Appeals of the Armed Services (Article I) Court of Appeals for the Federal Courts (Article III)
Discussion Question Recently captured terrorists have become classified as military non-combatants instead of prisoners of war and are thus being tried in secret military courts. As a controversial topic, should these prisoners be tried in secret in the name of national security, should they be tried in regular court, or should the U.S. even have jurisdiction over these prisoners in lieu of some kind of international court?
THE ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES OF FEDERAL COURTS Chief Justice – supervisory authority of the federal judicial system. The Chief Justice serves on the Judicial Conference of the U.S. and the Federal Judicial Center as well as appoints key administrative personnel. Judicial Conference of the United States – Administrative policy making organization of the federal judicial system. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts – Responsible for day-to-day administrative tasks of the federal judicial system, i.e., budgets, lobbying and liaison, and proposing changes to court rules.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES OF FEDERAL COURTS (cont’d) Federal Judicial Center – Responsible for research and training for the federal judiciary. Judicial Councils – The basic administrative unit of a federal judicial circuit. A judicial council administers and monitors caseload and judicial assignments. U.S. Sentencing Commission – The sentencing commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch. It established the federal sentencing guidelines (1987) and is responsible for research, evaluation, and development of sentencing issues.
Question When should state crimes become federal violations?
Question With rising federal case loads, should we increase the number of federal judges, or should we reduce federal jurisdiction?