Court System

A court is an institution that the government sets up to settle disputes through a legal process. People come to court to resolve their disagreements. Courts decide what really happened and what should be done about it. They decide whether a person committed a crime and what the punishment should be. They also provide a peaceful way to decide private disputes that people can't resolve themselves.

The judicial system in the United States is unique because it is actually made up of two different court systems: the federal court system and the state court systems. Both the federal and state governments need their own court systems to apply and interpret their laws. It is necessary to say that both systems are organized into three basic levels of courts – trial courts, intermediate courts of appeal and a high court, or Supreme Court.

The federal judiciary and the individual state judicial systems are each constructed like a pyramid.

Entry-level courts at both the state and federal levels are trial courts, in which witnesses are called, other evidence is presented and the fact-finder (a jury or sometimes a judge) is called upon to decide issues of fact based on the law. At the top of each pyramid structure is the court of last resort which has the authority to interpret the law of that jurisdiction. 

In most states and in the federal system there is also a mid-level court of appeals.  Appellate courts usually hear arguments from the attorneys involved in the case under review. No witnesses are heard and no other evidence is admitted. After the appellate court reviews the evidence and examines it for errors, it makes its opinion. The appellate court can reverse, affirm, or remand the lower courts decision. 

So, let me start with State Court System. Each state has its own independent judicial system, that operates independently.  The structure of state courts is in the form of a pyramid. Most states have a three-tiered judicial system composed of a trial-court level (sometimes called superior courts, district courts or circuit courts), an appellate court (often called the court of appeals) and a court of last resort (usually called the supreme court). Some states simply have one level of appeal. 

As in the federal court system, trials are presided over by a single judge (often sitting with a jury); entry-level appellate cases are heard by a three-judge panel; and in state supreme courts, cases are heard by all members of the court, which usually number seven or nine justices. 

The trial courts in each state include: common pleas courts which are the most important in the trial courts, and smaller in importance municipal courts, county courts and mayor’s courts.

 

The Federal Courts exist to fairly and impartially interpret and apply the law, resolve disputes and, perhaps most importantly, to protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

These courts are organized in a three-tiered hierarchical structure. At the lowest level are the U.S. District Courts, which are the trial courts. They are entry-level courts of general jurisdiction, meaning they hear cases involving various criminal and civil matters. There are 94 U.S. federal judicial districts, with at least one district court in each state. The number of judges depends on the size and population of each district court. Although each district court has numerous judges, a single judge presides over each case. Appeals from the U.S. District Courts are taken to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, often referred to as U.S. Circuit Courts. Appeals are taken from U.S. district courts to the U.S. courts of appeals if a losing party feels that the judge in the district court made an error of law. The U.S. Courts of Appeals is divided geographically into 12 circuits -- 11 numbered circuits, each covering at least three states. Each circuit hears appeals from the district courts within its territory. The number of judges in each circuit varies widely and is determined by the population and size of each circuit. A panel of three judges -- chosen at random -- sits on each case, and different combinations of judges sit on different cases.  From there, cases may be brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is relatively narrow; as an appellate court, it is open to appeal from decisions of federal district courts, circuit courts of appeals, and the highest courts in the states, although it may dismiss an appeal if it sees fit to do so. Cases heard by the Supreme Court usually involve questions about the Constitution or federal law. The court has discretionary power to decline review of cases from lower courts by denying petitions of certiorari or dismissing appeals.  The Court is comprised of the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.  The Chief Justice of the United States not only presides over the Supreme Court, he or she serves as the head of the judicial branch of the federal government.

So Federal Court System and State Court System seem to be very familiar. But there are differences between them. First of them is in  SELECTION OF JUDGES 

The Constitution states that federal judges are to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. 

They hold office during good behavior, typically, for life. Through Congressional impeachment proceedings, federal judges may be removed from office for misbehavior. Federal judges can be removed from office only through impeachment and conviction by Congress.

 

State court judges are selected in a variety of ways, including

•election,

•appointment for a given number of years, 

•appointment for life, and 

•combinations of these methods, e.g., appointment followed by election.

The second is in the TYPES OF CASES HEARD

•Cases that deal with the constitutionality of a law;

•Cases involving the laws and treaties of the U.S.;

•Ambassadors and public ministers;

•Disputes between two or more states;

•Admiralty law, and 

•Bankruptcy.

In state courts 

•Most criminal cases, probate (involving wills and estates), 

•Most contract cases, tort cases (personal injuries), family law (marriages, divorces, adoptions), etc. are heard.

State courts are the final arbiters of state laws and constitutions. Their interpretation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may choose to hear or not to hear such cases.