FAQ - The US Court System

Discussion in 'Use of the Law Forum & News' started by Michael Wechsler, Sep 3, 2001.

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  1. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Law Topic Starter Administrator Staff Member

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    <p><b>The US Court System</b></p>
    <p><b>The Difference Between State and Federal Courts</b></p>
    <p>There are two primary court systems in the United States, those being the federal and state courts. State courts typically handle matters that are governed by state law and federal courts handle cases involving federal law, interstate or international disputes. City courts are established under state law and are
    therefore a subset of the state courts - small claims court is a good example.</p>
    <p>Separate rules and procedures govern each court system and some decide where a case must be held. For example, divorce cases can only be heard in state court while bankruptcy cases may only be heard in federal court. In general, a case may be brought in state court and, if the case meets some of the following requirements, it may be brought in federal court:
    <ul>
    <li>cases involving federal law (e.g. federal copyright and trademark laws) or the US Constitution</li>
    <li>disputes between residents of different states where the amount in controversy is more than $50,000 (also known as &quot;diversity jurisdiction)</li>
    <li>cases involving US citizens and foreigners</li>
    <li>conflicts of law between state and federal law</li>
    </ul></p>
    <p><b>State Courts System</b></p>
    <p>In most states there are typically three trial levels although some have two. The trial court is the first level and where the trial is held. Verdicts may be appealed to an intermediate appeals court where a material error occurred on the trial level and may further be appealed to the highest appeals court. Typically the highest appeals court is known as the &quot;Supreme Court&quot; except in New York, where the courts are named, in ascending order, the Supreme Court, Appellate Court, and Court of Appeals.</p>
    <p>State courts that deal with specific matters include:
    <ul>
    <li>Criminal Court: violations of state law</li>
    <li>Civil Court: non-criminal disputes, typically a court below the Supreme Court which handles monetary disputes up to $25,000 or other limit set by the state</li>
    <li>Family Court (typically dealing with children's issues such as custody, support, abuse, and juvenile crime)</li>
    <li>Probate court (dealing with estate related matters and administration of wills)</li>
    <li>Housing courts (landlord-tenant disputes)</li>
    <li>Small claims (civil court dealing with monetary damages of up to $5,000 depending upon the state)</li>
    </ul></p>
    <p><b>Federal Court System</b></p>
    <p>The federal courts are divided into three levels. The trial courts (the &quot;US District Courts&quot;) are located throughout the United States, with at least one in each state. There are thirteen intermediate appeals court (the &quot;US Courts of Appeals&quot;), each governing a certain region called a &quot;circuit.&quot; This highest and final court of appeals (the &quot;US Supreme Court&quot;) hears appeals from the US Courts of Appeals and, with certain exceptions, from the US District Courts. An appeal accepted by the US Supreme Court is reviewed pursuant to a request called a &quot;writ of certiorari.&quot; There are other specialized federal courts that handle matters of federal law including the Tax Court, Bankruptcy
    Courts, and the Court of Federal Claims (claims brought against the US government).</p>
    <p><b>Differences Between State and Federal Courts</b></p>
    <p>On a general level, it is sometimes said amongst lawyers that the federal courts are much stricter with rules and procedure than their state counterparts. A possible explanation is that there are fewer cases that can be brought in federal court and there may not be as much incentive to move the cases along as quickly
    as in state courts.<br> On a technical level, federal court judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. They are appointed for lifetime terms but may be impeached by Congress if deemed to have acted improperly, although such proceedings are rare. In contrast, people typically vote state court justices into the bench for a term, with higher court justices chosen by the governor.</p>

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    Last edited: Sep 3, 2001
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