Two Court System in U.S.Two Court System in U.S.
• Federal laws controls federal land or on
federally regulated systems.
• Federal laws are the same everywhere in
• Congress can only pass laws that relate
to the 18 powers granted to it in the U.S.
• The rights guaranteed by the U.S.
Constitution cannot be broken by any
• State Court matters.
– Family Law (Marriage, Divorce and Custody)
– Criminal Law
– Property Issues.
– State Constitutional issues
• State Court of Appeals.
• State’s Supreme Court.
• U.S. Supreme Court.
– Any ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court is binding
on every court in the country.
• All trials begin at a trial court.
• Trial courts are the deciders of fact.
• Trial courts are adversarial.
– Both sides want to win the case.
– Share information.
– Most trials settle long before the trial
• A District Attorney can NEVER bring a
trial against a person that s/he knows is
innocent of that crime.
• The right to a jury is a limited right.
– Only a defendant in a criminal trial for a felony has
the right to a jury.
– Only a defendant in a criminal trial can decide
whether to have or not have a jury.
• In a civil trial, the decision by the jury does not have to
be unanimous. (Substantial majority)
• In a criminal trial, the jury’s decision has to be
• No set number of people who must be on a jury, but it is
usually 6, 9 or 12 people. (1 or 2 alternate jurors)
In order to serve on a jury, a person must be:
1. 18 years old.
2. A citizen.
3. A resident of the state or federal district.
4. Able to understand English.
•A jury must be made up of a representation of the people in the
•Cannot be excluded from serving on a jury because of their
age, race, sex, disability, etc.
•All citizens have a duty to serve on a jury, and can be brought
into court and punished for not serving on jury duty.
•The goal is to find out if the potential jurors
– Special Knowledge
– Both sides have an opportunity to remove potential
jurors that they do not want.
•Removal for cause.
•Neither side can eliminate potential jurors
simply because of race, religion, sex, age, etc.
• Error of law.
• CANNOT change the outcome of the
case simply because it does not like the
– Judges on the appeal must find a
legal error in order to change the
• In a civil trial, either side can appeal.
• In a criminal trial, the defendant can
appeal on any issue (including the
• If the appeals court finds a mistake
of law, the trial court MUST do what
the appeals court says.
• When an appeals court finds an
error of law, it can:
1. Order a new trial with specific
instructions to the trial court
2. Overturn the decision of the trial
3. Decide that the error was
harmless and allow the lower
court’s decision to stand as is.
• When an appeals court rules on
issue, it establishes a precedent.
– A precedent is a legal ruling
that is binding on all lower
courts and helps shape the
future of the law.
– This is how most laws are
developed over time and is very
• Since appellate court judges have
lifetime appointments, their
precedents can be very
• In order for a ruling to become a
precedent, a majority of the
appeals court must agree with the
– There are usually 3 judges on
an appeal, but can be more.
• In an appeal, one judge writes an
opinion for the majority of the
– This is the legal ruling of the
• Those who disagree write
• concurring opinions.
– Concurring opinions do not
State and Federal CourtsState and Federal Courts
• Certain issues are entirely Federal Court matters.
– These include U.S. Constitutional Issues, Federal Crimes,
Federal Property Issues and Diversity Cases.
• Diversity occurs when the plaintiff is from one state and the
defendant is from a different state.
– In order to prevent a bias for or against a
plaintiff/defendant in state courts, the U.S. Constitution
allowed civil lawsuits to be filed in federal courts when
there was diversity.
– In order to use the federal courts for diversity, the plaintiff
must prove that:
1. There is diversity;
2. The amount of the lawsuit is more than $75,000.00.
• All trials in the federal court system begin in the District Court.
• After the trial is over, an appeal can be filed in the U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals.
• After the appeal is over in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
the U.S. Supreme Court.
– Any ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court is binding on every
court in the country.
Federal Court CircuitsFederal Court Circuits
• Congress has divided up the United States into 12
• Each circuit has its own trial courts and appeals courts.
– Therefore, each circuit establishes its own precedents.
• We live in the 9th
circuit which is one of the most divided
circuits that many people want to split up.
Kinds of Laws—Criminal LawsKinds of Laws—Criminal Laws
• Criminal laws involve the government telling
the people what they may and may not do.
• Criminal laws are always brought by the
government who are represented by the
District Attorneys who are the prosecutors.
• The criminal trial process usually begins when
the police arrest someone.
• The criminal in a trial is called a defendant and
if s/he cannot afford a lawyer will get a Public
Kinds of Laws—Civil LawsKinds of Laws—Civil Laws
• Civil laws are laws passed by the
government to regulate between
people, businesses or groups.
• Civil laws result in lawsuits and
are brought by one person or
group against another person or
• The person bringing (or filing) a
civil lawsuit (or action) is called
• The person responding to the civil
lawsuit is called the defendant.
Kinds of Laws--Differences
• You HAVE the right to a
jury for a FELONY.
• The government WILL
provide a lawyer for
you if you cannot
• The case is brought by
• The prosecutor must
prove the case to the
jury BEYOND A
• You do NOT have the
right to a jury.
• The government will
NOT provide you a
lawyer if you cannot
• The case is brought
by a PLAINTIFF.
• The plaintiff must
prove his case by a
OF THE EVIDENCE.
Burden of Proof—Criminal LawBurden of Proof—Criminal Law
• In all trials or lawsuits the prosecutor or plaintiff must
prove his/her case to a certain level in order to win.
• In almost every trial the side that starts the lawsuit has
the burden to prove his/her case.
– In a criminal trial, the burden of proof is almost
always on the government.
• In a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove the case
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.
– This means that it is 99.99999% likely that the
person accused of the crime committed the crime.
– While a juror may have a doubt about whether the
accused committed the crime, the doubt cannot be
reasonable (hey, aliens could have done it, right?)
Burden of Proof—Civil LawBurden of Proof—Civil Law
• In a civil trial, the standard is called a
PREPONDERANCE OF THE EVIDENCE.
– This means that in order to win the lawsuit, the
plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than
not that the defendant injured him/her.
– That means that the plaintiff must prove it to
• If the plaintiff does not prove this, then the
• However, if the defendant never shows up to
court to defend the lawsuit, and the plaintiff does
show up, the plaintiff will win on default.
Burden of Proof—CombinedBurden of Proof—Combined
• Since many criminal violations can
result in civil lawsuits, it is possible to
have both a criminal and civil trial.
• If the prosecutor fails to prove his/her
case beyond a reasonable doubt, the
jury in the criminal trial should NOT
convict the defendant.
• However, if the plaintiff uses the same
evidence, and proves his/her case by a
preponderance of the evidence, then the
judge/jury in the civil trial should make
the defendant pay money.