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FEDERAL AND STATE COURT SYSTEMS IN THE USA

 

In its broadest sense, law is interpreted and understood through the courts. The American court system is complex as a dual Court system operates in the United States. The federal government and each of the 50 state governments have separate court systems. The federal court system includes district courts established by Congress, federal courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court (created by the U.S. Constitution). The federal courts are organized in three tiers, like a pyramid. Federal trial courts where litigation begins are known as U.S. District Courts. They are at the bottom of the pyramid. The US Circuit Courts of appeals are in the middle and the US Supreme Court is at the top. District courts and courts of appeals have somewhat less political importance, since their principal duty is to settle cases where no constitutional question is at stake. Each state has at least one district court; a few have as many as four. The decision revolving the case is made by a jury, or by the judge if each party waives the right to a jury trial. The losing party can appeal the case to the U.S. court of appeals for that region, one of 13 federal courts of appeals.

Most federal courts hear and decide a lot of cases. They primarily hear cases involving questions of constitutional law, federal crimes, bankruptcy, tax, postal, copyright, patent, or trademark laws, and maritime cases. They also hear cases involving parties from different states, or an American citizen and a citizen of another country when the amount in dispute is more than $10,000.

The systems established by the states include circuit courts of appeals, and state supreme courts. The State courts are set up in a system that looks like the system of Federal courts in structure and procedure. State courts are often specialized to deal with specific areas of law, such as family law, traffic, criminal, probate, and small claims. Family or domestic relations courts hear all actions involving divorce, separation, and child custody. Juvenile cases and intra-family offenses (fights within families) are also heard. Sometimes cases involving juveniles are heard in a special juvenile court. Traffic courts hear all actions involving violations while driving a motor vehicle. Criminal courts hear all cases involving violations of laws for which a person could go to jail. Frequently criminal court is divided between felony and misdemeanor cases. Probate courts handle all cases involving wills and claims against the estates of persons. Small claims courts hear cases involving small amounts of money (e.g., $200, $500, or $1,000, depending on the state). Individuals may bring cases here without lawyers though it is sometimes advised that lawyers be present and the court fees are low.

Several specialized courts have been created to hear certain types of cases. Some states have small-claims courts to hear cases involving disputes over small amounts of money, usually below $1,500. States also commonly have divorce courts, juvenile courts, and traffic courts. At the federal level, specialized courts include the U.S. Tax Court for the cases and the U.S. Court of Claims for claims against the government.

If you lose your case in the trial court, you may appeal to an intermediate court of appeals. In some states, the appeal goes directly to the state supreme court. If a state supreme court decision involves only state law, it can be appealed no further. But if it involves some federal law or constitutional issue, it can then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The highest court of the land is the U.S. Supreme Court, which meets in the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C. It is a beautiful building of white marble. The figures over the entrance represent the national ideas of law and liberty. Above the main entrance appear the words "Equal Justice Under Law". The US Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the United States. It includes a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. They are all appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. Justices are appointed to the Supreme Court for life. A party may appeal the decision of a U.S. court of appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court as the Court's major function is to hear cases appealed from the U.S. courts of appeals or state supreme courts. The Supreme Court decides which cases to hear; roughly 4 percent of all appeals are heard each year.

The Supreme Court is in session from October to June. One of the most important duties of the justices is to decide whether laws passed by the Congress agree with the Constitution. The justices do this by interpreting the laws of Congress and the provisions of the Constitution. If the Supreme Court decides that the Constitution does not give Congress the power to pass a certain law, the court declares the law to be unconstitutional. Such a law can no longer be enforced by the President and his executive officers.

 

VOCABULARY NOTES

entity, n. ; corporate entity ; entity in its own right ᒺ , ; formal entity ; informal entity ; juridical/legal entity ' ; legal entity under public law - ; police entity ; separate entity ; sovereign entity ; territorial entity .

statute, n. ; ; statute of no effect ; statute-in force .

enactment, n. ; ; legislative enactment ; parliamentary enactment , ; speedy enactment .

legislature, n. ; bicameral legislature ; federal legislature ; unicameral legislature .

law, n. ; ; ; according to law ; at law ; contrary to law ; decisional law ; law for the tme being , 䳺 ; to be in trouble with the law ; to go to law ; to stand to the law .

court, n. ; appeal(s) court/court of Appeals ; arbitration court / ; court above ; court and jury ; juvenile court ; to appear in court/to stand court ; to attend the court ' ; to bring before the court/bar/to bring into court ; to hold a court ; to refer to court .

circuit, n. ; judicial circuit .

jurisdiction, n. ; out of jurisdiction ; within jurisdiction ; to acquire jurisdiction ; to come/to fall within the jurisdiction ; to exercise jurisdiction .

lawsuit, n. ; ; bona fide lawsuit ; vexatious lawsuit .

jury, n. , ; biased jury ; common jury ; discharged jury ; extra trial jury 㳿 ; fixed jury ; full jury 㳿 ; jury for trial , ; to discharge the jury ; to select a jury .

judge, n. ; associated judge ; chief judge ; circuit judge ; deputy judge .

trial, n. ; ; after trial ; bench trial ; trial at bar ; to bring to trial/to put on/upon trial ; to conduct/to hold trial ; to delay trial ; to face trial/to go to trial ; to save from trial : to send for trial ; to stand trial .

justice, n. ; ; course of justice ; justice in court ; to administer/to do/to dispense/to distribute/to mete out justice ; to bring to justice .

VOCABULARY EXERCISES

 

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