This year, you are going to get a chance to try your skills at being judges and attorneys. You won’t have time to go to law school this year... But there are a few things you should know before they get here… As you know, judges and attorneys have law degrees. so a judge and some attorneys will be coming to your class to help you get ready to work on a case.
There are two basic types of cases that judges and attorneys work on... Civil Cases and Criminal Cases Civil cases have to do with groups of people (or “parties”) who disagree about something. One or both parties can take the case to court. Civil cases often involve: People suing because they believe someone owes them money. People who believe they have been hurt or injured because someone was negligent. People who believe they have been treated unfairly by another person, a business, the government, or others. I’ll see you in court!
Criminal Cases When someone has broken the law – committed a crime – it goes to criminal court. The person accused of the crime is called the defendant. The city, state, or U.S. government brings the case to court. Not another citizen like in a civil case. Criminal cases involve: Murder, assault, and all other violent crimes. Drunk driving and other driving violations. Drugs, theft, and all things that are illegal.
One judge presides. The judge’s job is to make sure everything that happens is fair to both sides. The defense lawyers present evidence to prove the defendant is not guilty. The evidence comes from witnesses, whom lawyers examine and cross-examine. A jury hears the evidence and gives a verdict. In a criminal case... The prosecuting attorneys present evidence to prove the defendant is guilty.
Lawyers present evidence. In a civil trial, each party has its own attorneys. The person who decided to bring the case to court is called the plaintiff. The other side is called the defense, just like in a criminal case. The judge, the witnesses, and the jury have the same roles in a civil trial as in a criminal trial.
After a criminal or civil trial, one side or the other might appeal the case. This means that the attorney will ask a higher court to take a look at the case to see if it was decided fairly. Remember, there are rules that judges and attorneys must follow to conduct a FAIR trial. Some of those rules come from the U.S. Constitution. Appeals are accepted only when it is alleged that a rule was not followed or the Constitution was violated. But a case may not be appealed just because someone doesn’t like the verdict. The appeal must claim that there was an error of law.
The judge made a mistake instructing the jury. The judge allowed evidence that should not have been let in. A law is unconstitutional. We’re confused. For example, the claim could be that...
From a trial court, the case is appealed to an appellate court. There are different levels of appellate courts. Each level has the authority to overrule the lower court. Appeals go to appellate court… get it? We get it!
Finally, the case might be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case might then be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court. First, a case might go to the state’s Court of Appeals. This court will make a ruling. Winner This is the highest court in the United States.
The appeals court is different from a trial court. It does not hold a trial. There are no witnesses, no jury, and no evidence is introduced. A panel of justices hears the appeal. Lawyers on each side present arguments. The arguments are about the “error of law” that is being appealed. After the oral arguments, the justices leave the courtroom to discuss and think hard about the case. Then they reach a decision.
One justice writes the opinion of the court. It tells the facts of the case, the decision, and the reasons for the decision. If a justice disagrees with the decision, he or she may write a dissenting opinion.
Now that you’ve got some legal background, you are just about ready to meet with a judge and some attorneys to prepare to hear and argue an appellate case. There’s just one more thing… you need to “pass the bar.”
In a courtroom, a railing or bar separates the audience from the attorneys, judge, and jury. Attorneys and judges must pass a test before they are allowed to practice law. The name of the test is the “bar exam.” Until one passes the bar exam, he or she cannot pass the bar and practice law in the courtroom. This year you are going to have a chance to be a judge or attorney. Now that you have had a quick law school course, it’s time for you to pass the bar... See what you know about the law and legal system. A question will come up on the screen. You will have 30 seconds to write down your answer. Ready?
1. Which of the following is NOT TRUE? A. The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. B. The U.S. Supreme Court is a trial court. C. The U.S. Supreme Court is an appellate court. Answer: B. The U.S. Supreme Court is a trial court. GO!STOP!
2. In a trial court, the jury’s job is to... A. Decide if the defendant is guilty or not. B. Question witnesses. C. Eat lunch with the judge. Answer: A. Decide if a person is guilty or not. GO!STOP!
3. Which one of these seems like the best reason for an attorney to try to appeal a case? A. The jury took too long to decide that the defendant was guilty. B. The courtroom was too hot, so the attorneys could not concentrate. C. The judge allowed the other side to show evidence that was collected without a police warrant. Answer: C. The judge allowed the other side to show evidence that was collected without a police warrant. GO! STOP!
4. Which of the following is correct in a criminal court of law? A. The defense tries to get a “not guilty” verdict. B. Prosecution tries to get a “not guilty” verdict. C. Defense tries to score a touchdown. Answer: A. Defense tries to get a “not guilty” verdict. GO!STOP!
5. Which is true about a civil case? A. The plaintiff is the party bringing the case to court. B. The defense is the party bringing the case to court C. A civil case is like a brief case, only bigger. Answer: A. The plaintiff is the party bringing the case to court. GO!STOP!
6. Which is true about an appellate court? A. A jury decides the case. B. The attorneys argue the case in front of a panel of justices. C. It’s like a basketball court, only bigger. Answer B. The attorneys argue the case in front of a panel of justices. GO!STOP!
7. Which of the following is NOT TRUE? A. A trial court has only one judge and an appellate court has a panel of judges, called “justices.” B. In a trial court, attorneys call witnesses to testify and in an appellate court, there are no witnesses. C. In a trial court, only the District Attorney questions the justices. Answer: C. In a trial court, only the District Attorney questions the justices. GO!STOP!
8. Which of these do judges and attorneys need to know a lot about? A. The Pledge of Allegiance B. The U.S. Constitution C. The U.S. Postal Service Answer: B. The U.S. Constitution GO!STOP!
Hopefully, you’re ready to learn more about the Constitution and the law so that you can work on a U.S. Supreme Court case. How did you do?