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Basic mechanics of the U.S. justice system Print E-mail

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 00:00

Written by Lizzy Cornwell

U.S.  Justice System: How Does It Work?

The United States justice system is in many sense unique in the world. The principles of the U.S. justice system are relatively easy to understand. Here is an overview of how the United States justice system works.

 The main bodies of the U.S. justice system are two separate levels of courts - state and federal. These The type of court where  a case is tried depends on the law that was violated (state or federal). Most of the laws that govern day-to-day life in America are state laws – for example, state family law, state employment law, etc. To violate the federal law, an individual has to commit a crime across state line (like kidnapping), be involved in activities such as tax fraud.

Traditionally, lawyers distinguish between procedural law, that can be described as internal law, and substantive law, which is what most people think of as law, as this law defines legally enforceable rights and duties of individuals and the whole society.

There are two types of trials in the U.S. justice system - criminal and civil. In criminal trials, an individual is prosecuted by the government for an offense that threatens other individuals or the whole society.  In criminal trials, individuals are prosecuted by the state or federal government, depending on the law violated.

The nature of civil trials is different, as they are basically disputes between two parties. The party that initiates action in a civil trial is called the plaintiff.

Each state is free to arrange its own court system, as long as it is in accordance with the Constitution of the United States. However, justice systems in most states have several features in common.

There are several levels of court trials, the lowest level being where state law is alleged to have been violated – the Supreme Court Trial Division. This is the only court that has the power to investigate and determine the actual facts involved in a case. Usually there is a jury to decide whether the prosecuted party is guilty or not.

If either party involved in the case feels that an error has been made during the court process, they can bring the case to a Court of Appeal. Appeals feature two attorneys  who try to convince a panel of five judges that the law favours their side. If a party is not satisfied with the results of the appeal, it can ask for a an appeal to the Supreme Court of the State.

At the federal level, the procedure is very similar to the one at state-level courts.

There is only one legal body that can cancel decisions taken by federal or state courts if it finds them contrary to the Constitution of the United States – the United States Supreme Court. This ensures that the U.S. justice system is the rightful guardian of civil liberties and constitutional rights of people in the United States of America.


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