The American Judicial Process
The American Judicial Process PLS 320
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Date Created: 09/19/15
PLS 320 American Judicial Process September 25 2006 History amp Organization of the State Courts Background States in our system are sovereign entities They have their own constitutions sets of statutes corpus juris etc But This Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof and all Treaties made or Which shall be made under the authority of the United States shall be Supreme Law of the land and the Judges in every state shall be bound thereby any thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding US Constitution Article VI Paragraph 2 Colonial System Lowest level ofjudiciary were local judges of the peace or magistrates Appointed by the colony s governor Next level was the county courts General trial courts for the colony Local systems were not uniform As colonies grew the legal profession changed and became more like the English common law system more uniformity to law Early State Courts Following revolution new state governments were dominated by legislative branch State legislatures carefully watched couns In some instances judges were removed or courts abolished because of unpopular decisions Modern State Courts Early courts designed to handle rural agrarian cases postCivil War industrialization led to change in the American judiciary Explosive increases in litigation were the result of 0 rapid industrialization 0 population growth 0 urbanization Modern State Courts cont The pressures arising from the concentration of people in cities and the rise of industry made the state court system in America inadequate Responses to these pressures included 0 the creation of city courts to deal with specific cases arising in metropolitan areas 0 the creation of specialized courts to deal with such areas as small claims and domestic relations 0 the creation of courts based on specific boundaries within cities for example specific courts to handle cases arising within given precincts or wards Modern State Courts cont The results of these developments included 0 concurrentjurisdictions among courts leading to forum shopping 0 the existence of multiple independent courts meaning each was a selfcontained unit and there were few if any mechanisms to more evenly distribute cases among courts to avoid congestion in the courts This unplanned expansion is referred to as fragmentation Legal scholars such as Roscoe Pound soon spoke against fragmentation and eventually produced a court unification movement A Complex Court Structure The most basic fact about state courts is that they vary 0 State courts vary on multiple dimensions including their degree of unification what types of courts they have what they call their different courts what jurisdiction they assign to their courts State Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction These are the most frequently occurring court in other words there are more of these than of any other type of court Trial courts of limited jurisdiction are the courts where the majority of litigation takes place 0 Every state has some trial courts of limited jurisdiction 0 These courts are set up to hear particular types of cases usually not those involving serious crimes or large sums of money Courts of Limited Jurisdiction cont Criminal cases heard in courts of limited jurisdiction are misdemeanors Civil cases heard in courts of limited jurisidiction are usually referred to as small claims An important characteristic of trial courts of limited jurisdiction is that they use abbreviated procedures that is 0 They do not use juries 0 They do not generally keep verbatim records of their proceedings Courts of Limited Jurisdiction cont Although there is a generally understood right to one appeal some cases heard in trial courts of limited jurisdiction do not have a right to appeal these are usually 0 Civil cases involving claims of less than 1000 0 Criminal cases involving very small monetary fines and nojail time When appeals from trial courts of limited jurisdiction are allowed because they are not courts of record that is they do no keep verbatim records the appeal must be appealed de novo o In an appeal de novo the case goes to the next higher trial court and is reheard on its facts trial de novo Courts of Limited Jurisdiction cont While trial courts of general jurisdiction do not ultimately dispose of felony cases they can be and often are involved with processing the early stages of felony cases specifically trial courts of limited jurisdiction may 0 Hold the arraignment 0 Set bail o Appoint counsel for indigent defendants Courts of Limited Jurisdiction cont In Michigan there are three types of trial courts of limited jurisdiction 0 Probate courts 0 District courts includes Small Claims 0 Municipal courts Grosse Pointe 0 Court of Claims claims against the State of Michigan State Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction Major civil and criminal trial courts 0 Trial courts of general jurisdiction are courts of record that is they keep verbatim transcripts of their proceedings 0 They may operate with a judge and jury orjust a judge 0 Most common name for these courts is district court but they can be called a variety of names depending on the state including Superior court Circuit court Michigan Court of Common Pleas Courts of General Jurisdiction cont Typically the geographical jurisdiction of these courts follows county lines 0 Covering a single county in urban areas but multiple counties in less populated areas Courts of General Jurisdiction cont Criminal cases heard in trial courts of general jurisdiction are socalled street crimes such as murder robbery rape burglary and theft 0 In contrast white collar crimes are usually heard in federal trial courts 0 Note Since the majority of criminal cases do not actually go to trial these courts more often decide what penalty to impose than they determine guilt or innocence Courts of General Jurisdiction cont Civil cases by far constitute the majority of state trial court dockets Three most common types of civil litigation are 0 Domestic relations cases divorce child custody etc 0 Estate cases Wills etc 0 Personal injury cases Torts Tort def a private or civil wrong or injury resulting from a breach of a legal duty that exists by virtue of society s expectations regarding interpersonal conduct rather than by contract or other private relationships more about this when we discuss civil law State Intermediate Appellate Courts Most states have intermediate appellate couns 0 Those that do are said to have a twotiered appellate structure 0 Some states have more than one intermediate appellate court Divide their intermediate appellate structure between civil and criminal cases Alabama Tennessee States which do not have intermediate appellate courts are usually those with smaller populations Intermediate Appellate Courts cont Do not use juries Usually hear cases in panels of 3 judges with the decision of the court determined by the majority vote of the panel 0 Composition of the 3 judge panels is largely determined by the chiefjustice of the intermediate appellate court Most common name for these courts is Court of Appeals Michigan but they are known by other names depending upon the state Intermediate Appellate Courts cont Function of these courts is to review the rulings of trial courts 0 Most commonly reviewing the rulings of trial courts of general jurisdiction but they may be reviewing rulings of trial courts of limited jurisdiction depending upon the appellate process as determined by the state legislature Intermediate appellate courts have mandatory dockets that is they are required to hear the cases which are brought to them This means that they are hearing a lot of routine cases which in turn means that they have high affirmance rates State Courts of Last Resort Most commonly referred to as state supreme courts Generally review those cases already heard by the lower courts In states with an intermediate appellate court they are usually choosing cases to review from the intermediate appellate court that are the most important 0 in other words these state supreme court have a discretionary docket State Courts of Last Resort cont When there is not an intermediate appellate court state supreme courts handle a substantial number of routine appeals cases and as a result have a higher affirmance rate than those state supreme courts in states without intermediate appellate courts Why A mandatory docket State Courts of Last Resort cont Every state has a court of last resort Texas and Oklahoma each has two A court of last resort for civil cases and a court of last resort for criminal cases State supreme courts hear cases en banc that is all members of the supreme court hear cases together Number of supreme court judges varies from 5 to 9 with the average number being 7 State Courts of Last Resort cont All state supreme courts have some original jurisdiction 0 One category of cases which all state supreme courts have original jurisdiction over are matters pertaining to the bar Attorney discipline Death penalty cases usually do not follow the normal route of appeal death penalty cases often bypass the intermediate appellate court if there is one and are appealed directly to the state court of last resort State Courts of Last Resort cont These courts are very important because they have the last word on state law Unless there is a violation of federal statutory or constitutional law the state supreme court s ruling is final MPEK 37 MPE 38 Kagan et al TYPOLOGY OF STATE SUPREME COURTS Lowcaseload lowdiscretion this was the norm in our early history and remains in states with small rural populations TYPOLOGY OF STATE SUPREME COURTS cont Highcaseload lowdiscretion In larger states this became the norm and was seen as a problem WHY Population growth mostly Example in both California and Michigan the state population doubled between 1870 and 1895 Led to the creation of intermediate appellate courts but slowly in many states into the 1960s in some medium and large states WHY BECAUSE THE STRUCTURES OF THESE COURT SYSTEM WERE EMBEDDED IN STATE CONSTITUTIONS and therefore hard to change TYPOLOGY OF STATE SUPREME COURTS cont Lowcaseload highdiscretion Policymaking courts These are the state courts that most resemble the US Supreme Court MPEK 38 MPE 39 Brennan State supreme courts have become vital protectors of the rights of citizens The mechanism has been the adoption of State Bill of Rights in state constitutions and the willingness of state supreme courts to apply these in such a way as to create even greater protections of individual rights than those afforded by the federal Bill of Rights and the US Supreme Court case law surrounding it Allows the set of liberties we have as citizens to evolve and develop with a changing society WITHOUT implicating questions of federal constitutional jurisprudence like those raised by Scalia