1. The American criminal justice system is a dual court system. This means that we have court structures at both the state and federal levels.
2. There are courts of general jurisdiction and courts of limited jurisdiction.
3. Courts of general jurisdiction here all types of cases whereas courts of limited jurisdiction, only here specific types of cases.
4. Generally, criminal trials fall under the courts of general jurisdiction.
5. There are different organizational structures for trial courts and appellate courts.
6. Each state has a different way of structuring their individual state court systems.
7. Typically, at the state level, there are trial and appellate courts. Each state has a State Supreme Court.
8. Federal courts have jurisdiction to only hear federal-related cases which involve violation of federal laws.
9. The government itself must be prosecuting the case or is somehow party to the lawsuit.
10. The only criminal cases heard by a federal court would be in the instance in which a defendant violated a federal law or in instances where defendants believe the state has actually violated federal law.
11. Majority of prosecutions are not prosecuted in federal courts but rather in state courts.
12. Federal courts have both trial and appellate courts and the “court of last resort” known as the United States Supreme Court.
13. There are a number of specialty courts under the federal court system.
14. For example, members of the United States Armed Forces who have been accused of violating criminal laws for individuals in the military, are tried in courts-martial.
15. Drug courts have been responsible for dealing with nonviolent offenders accused of drug crimes.
16. Members of American Indian tribes can be tried by tribal courts for crimes that have been committed on tribal land.
17. The United States Immigration Court concerns themselves with matters of worker’s compensation and employment benefits.
18. Teen courts are another specialized court that deal with first time, nonviolent, youth offenders.
19. The objective of these teen courts is to deter youthful offenders.
20. Teen peers serve as the prosecution, defense attorneys, and the jury.
1. There are various types of judges known as magistrates, justices of the peace, commissioners, and referees.
2. Magistrates and justices of the peace typically handle minor legal matters.
3. Court commissioners whom are also known as referees, generally preside over earlier stages of the court process and are typically found in juvenile and family courts.
4. They also hear many misdemeanor and felony cases and appeals as well.
5. United States Supreme Court judges are known as justices.
6. There are various types of prosecutors.
7. Special prosecutors are allocated the authority to investigate and bring upon charges in high profile political scandals.
8. Most states have Attorney Generals. They are often elected into office.
9. Majority of all criminal prosecutions are prosecuted through the district attorney’s offices and they prosecute criminals at the local level.
10. Public defenders represent indigent individuals who cannot afford an attorney.
11. There are however, individual lawyers in private practice that can take on indigent clients for a fee.
12. Also, the contract method allows law firms and nonprofit agencies to accept indigent cases on a fee schedule.
13. Juries have been around for thousands of years and are a compilation of civilians that will determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect.
14. Witnesses will be summoned to provide information about their direct knowledge concerning a situation.
15. Expert witnesses will provide scientific, technical, and specialized knowledge. They provide opinions to help triers of fact decide a case.
1. Courtroom workgroup is made up of many participants.
2. Judges are responsible for deciding on several matters, including: whether probable cause exists to believe that the suspect has committed a crime, whether or not to release suspects from custody during trial, and to decide all matters of law including sentencing.
3. Prosecutors have the responsibility of prosecuting cases.
4. They also bring about charges against defendants.
5. Prosecutor’s offices also conduct investigations and make various recommendations with respect to bail and plea-bargaining, as well make sentencing recommendations.
6. Like judges, prosecutors have considerable amounts of discretion.
7. They exercise their discretion by determining whether to pursue a case, file charges, or when deciding whether to present a plea bargain to the defendant.
8. Defense attorneys are responsible for arguing the case on behalf of the defendant.
9. They also conduct pretrial investigations, may be present during law enforcement questioning, and may consult and bargain with the prosecutor and the judge over bail amounts and sentencing.
10. Public defenders are assigned by the courts in instances when defendants cannot afford their own attorney.
11. Assigned counsel represents individual lawyers in private firms who also take on indigent clients.
12. Some court jurisdictions utilize a contract method in which law firms and nonprofit agencies accept indigent cases on a fee basis.
13. The majority of felony cases are represented by public defenders however, privately paid defense attorneys are available to those who can afford their services.
14. Juries are represented as US citizens who do not have formal legal training, but are summoned to participate in investigating crimes and determining whether or not there is sufficient evidence to file charges and prosecute a specific suspect.
15. Grand juries are juries who make those determinations.
16. Petit juries are citizens who ultimately decide guilt or innocence of those charged with crimes.
17. Witnesses are an important courtroom workgroup.
18. A lay witness is someone who has heard or has seen something firsthand that is related to the crime.
19. An expert witness can provide their specialized knowledge to help decide upon the case and therefore, can offer an opinion about an issue.
1. Scripture says “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.'” (Deu 1:16-17)
2. Note here the emphasis on impartiality.
3. There was also an emphasis on the need for delegation—Moses had been trying to hear and review every case himself, but his father-in-law, Jethro advised him that delegation was important (Exodus 18:13-27)
4. Our court system needs that delegation as well, to ensure that the judicial system is not clogged up and people have to wait for justice.
5. Of course, in an overly litigious society, where people look for legal coverage at the expense of moral integrity, the court systems will always be over-burdened.
6. This is a reminder that the legal system can never remove evil; it can only restrain it.
7. As people reject self-government based upon Biblical wisdom and justice, we will see more laws, less freedom, and a judicial system overwhelmed.