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Structure of the United States Court System by Emoni Fitch

Structure of the United States Court System

The United States’ Court system can seem a bit confusing due to the “overlapping network of different courts,” however there is a clear pattern to how the courts are structured. The state and federal court system are divided into the different areas depicted below.

Courts of Special Jurisdiction

These courts are established to hear certain type of cases. An example of these types of courts within the federal system are bankruptcy and tax courts. State systems also have specific courts that deal with certain legal issue such as family courts and probate courts. These courts generally have more simple rules of evidence procedure in order to expedite the process and the judges and lawyers typically have expertise within that specific area of the law.

Trial Courts

There are two different types of trial courts which are civil court and criminal court.  Though the structure between these two courts are similar, the procedures and rules are quite different. Within these courts, “Each side in a case has the opportunity to learn or discover as many facts about the case as possible before trial. At the trial, the parties will present their evidence in order to convince a judge or jury that the facts are favorable to their side. The judge and the jury will reach their decision, or verdict, which is the end for most cases.”

The link below provides more specific information on how a case moves forward in the criminal trial court as well as the structure of the court and the procedures that are followed.

Appellate Courts

In the trial courts, if there is a lapse in procedure or interpretation of the law, then either party can appeal the case to the appellate court. These courts do not re-hear the entire case, but instead they focus on the portion of the case that may have been misinterpreted or where the lower court may have made a mistake. Appellate courts can typically take cases from courts of special jurisdiction as well.

Supreme Court

This is the highest ranking court in any jurisdiction. If the appellate court makes a mistake, or if the party thinks that a law is unjust, then they can make an appeal from the appellate court to the Supreme Court. There is also the possibility that if at the trial court level, there is a particularly interesting question of the law, the Supreme Court will skip the appellate court step and take the case on directly. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is the end of the process and the rules stands. Though, if a case was appealed to a state supreme court and involves a federal issue, then it can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

State and Federal Courts

State and federal courts decide different types of cases. Federal courts decide cases that involve federal issues of law such as constitutional rights or federal crimes. State courts are allowed to decide some federal issues, though they decide all issues regarding state law.

This information regarding the structure of the U.S. Court System comes from:

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