A Case Study on the US Court System
Category : Law and Ethics Essays
According to Socrates, the law is made for the purpose of uniting the people and if those laws were not followed, the purpose will remain impossible. A law is a guideline that governs the people of one country that has a limited scope but defines every subject matter. By imposing such laws, the person who were accused and said that made something that is against the provisions of the law are subject to face the consequences.
A court is a body, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes and dispense civil, criminal, or administrative justice in accordance with rules of law. In common law and civil law states, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all persons have an ability to bring their claims before a court. Similarly, those accused of a crime have the right to present their defense before a court1.
Court System in United States
The U.S. court system is divided into two administratively separate systems, the federal and the state, each of which is independent of the executive and legislative branches of government. Such a dual court system is a heritage of the colonial period. By the time the U.S. Constitution had first mandated (1789) the establishment of a federal judiciary, each of the original Thirteen Colonies already had its own comprehensive court system based on the English model. Thus, the two systems grew side by side and came to exercise exclusive jurisdiction in some areas and overlapping, or concurrent, jurisdiction in others2.
Dual Court System
As a result of this historical evolution, a dual system of state and federal courts exists today. Therefore, federal and state courts may have concurrent jurisdiction over specific crimes. The court system in the United States is based upon the principle of federalism. Jurisdiction in this context simply means the ability of the court to enforce laws and punish individuals who violate those laws3.
The Federal Court System
Of the two systems, the federal is by far the less complicated. According to Article III of the Constitution, "The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." In accordance with this directive, the federal judiciary is divided into three main levels.
The highest court in the federal system is the Supreme Court of the United States, the only federal court explicitly mandated by the Constitution. The high court may review decisions made by the U.S. courts of appeals, and it may also choose to hear appeals from state appellate courts if a constitutional or other federal issue is involved. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in a limited number of cases, including those that involve high-ranking diplomats of other nations or those between two U.S. states.
In addition, the federal judiciary maintains a group of courts that handle certain limited types of disputes. Included among such special federal courts are the Court of Federal Claims, which adjudicates monetary claims against the U.S. government, and the Tax Court4.
The State Court Systems
The system of state courts is quite diverse; virtually no two states have identical judiciaries. In general, however, the states, like the federal government, have a hierarchically organized system of general courts along with a group of special courts. The lowest level of state courts, often known generically as the inferior courts, may include any of the following: magistrate court, municipal court, justice of the peace court, police court, traffic court, and county court. Such tribunals, often quite informal, handle only minor civil and criminal cases. More serious offenses are heard in superior court, also known as state district court, circuit court, and by a variety of other names.
The superior courts, usually organized by counties, hear appeals from the inferior courts and have original jurisdiction over major civil suits and serious crimes such as grand larceny. It is here that most of the nation's jury trials occur. The highest state court, usually called the appellate court, state court of appeals, or state Supreme Court, generally hears appeals from the state superior courts and, in some instances, has original jurisdiction over particularly important cases. A number of the larger states, such as New York, also have intermediate appellate courts between the superior courts and the state's highest court. Additionally, a state may have any of a wide variety of special tribunals, usually on the inferior court level, including juvenile court, divorce court, probate court, family court, housing court, and small-claims court5.
Unification of Court System and Effectiveness
The unification of court system will create a great disturbance in the system of the court. Both the federal and state court directs their cases into the last resort which is the Supreme Court. In the America, the Supreme Court hears the appeals from federal and state courts. It has original jurisdiction in cases in which a state is a party, and in cases involving American ambassadors, ministers, and consuls.
By the US Supreme Court, the functions of the federal and state court are treated as one. Into the deep case, every court system is not presented as a solid material but rather, it should broke down into pieces and study each fiber. In fact, there are many jurors that mastered different cases and specifically depending on the system above them. The main purpose of separating the system is to experience their functions free. The unification of the system will only cause a sluggish process in solving many cases. The cases that the prosecutors and judges are facing are based on different levels. If there were happened the union of the court systems toward the monolithic inspiration, the effectiveness will be minimal and the worst is the value of it cannot be perceived.
Sentencing Goals and Rationales
There are three and sometimes overlapping areas in categorizing the goals of sentencing6.
* To restore truth in the sentencing process so the public knows how much time an offender will serve in prison.
* To increase the proportion of a sentence that is served in prison, generally to percent, and/or to eliminate parole release as a means of reducing crime by keeping offenders incarcerated for a longer period of time.
* To control the use of prison space, often in conjunction with a guidelines system, so decision makers know in advance what the impact of sentencing will be on prison populations.
The first goal is considered as the primary goal in sentencing. It is logically placed in the first row to make it elaborate to the readers about the main concept of it. The public will be aware in the sentencing process that might help them avoid committing such criminal offense. The scope of offense will be applicable to all specially when the prisoners will only serve the correctional in the minimum offense and the death will be the worst consequence that an accused might face. In short, the penalty that a person might face is depends on how heavy the case is.
The circumstance that this kind of goal might have is very dim. It is because the greatest inhibitions of the other goals are based on the first one. As long as the main goal is alive, the other goal or its sub-goals will follow. Goals are created to be the basis in making criminal punishments, both for the good of the accused party and the one who set the suit case. Sometimes, the variations of different goals will make the sentencing process more effective. The impact of the sentencing will result to the satisfaction of the justice.
The relationship between state courts and federal courts is quite complicated. Although the United States Constitution and federal laws override state laws where there is a conflict between federal and state law, state courts are not subordinate to federal courts. Rather, they are two parallel sets of courts with different often overlapping jurisdiction7.
The court systems are already defined into different works and exhibits different role in the justice. An attempt to harmonize the two types will need a big leap for change, for there are chances that they can be together but more often, one is useful if it works alone.
1. Walker, D., (1980). Oxford Companion to Law, Oxford University Press, p. 301, ISBN 019866110X.
2. The Columbia Encyclopedia (2007). Court System in the United States. Columbia University Press, New York. 6th edition p. 12111.
3. Historical Context: The Principle of Federalism (2008). Chapter 2 The Criminal Justice System Continuum [Online] Available at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/assist/nvaa2002/chapter2_1.html [Accessed 14 Aug 2009].
4. Encyclopedia, Ibid.,
5. Encyclopedia, Ibid.,
6. Mauer, M., (1996). The Truth about Truth in Sentencing. Corrections Today. Vol. 58. No. 1.
7. Consumer Crusade, Inc. v. Affordable Health Care Solutions, Inc., (2005) 121 P.3d 350.