Beyond what they learn in school most people are not overly familiar with the American justice system. It is a complex system that incorporates the involvement of thousands of individuals on a daily basis. Judges and attorneys are the obvious participants, but law enforcement officers, citizens and government officials all have parts to play. Knowing some of the basics of how the justice system operates is useful in case you ever need to defend yourself in court or if you wish to bring suit against a person or entity. Being familiar with the court system always has its benefits, even when you only need to deal with a traffic ticket. Accordingly, it makes sense to learn something about this carefully balanced system before you need to utilize it.
Though the United States once fought a war to break away from Great Britain, the American court system nonetheless owes a debt to the court system of the United Kingdom. Both systems share a great deal in common since early Americans used the British system as their model. The United States utilizes an adversarial justice system. This essentially means that adversaries, also called litigants, bring their respective cases before a neutral party, most often a judge. These cases are most often argued by attorneys who work on behalf of the litigants. The lawyers work in close connection with their clients to collect testimony and evidence and it is the responsibility of the lawyers to submit written and oral arguments to the court.
Long established rules govern the procedure of trials and the legal processes leading up to a trial. These rules are meant to be strictly observed as they assist to ensure the fairness of the system and provide both sides with an opportunity to adequately represent their side of the events leading up to the legal action. Failure to abide by these rules can have stiff consequences for both attorneys and litigants, so it is important to proceed with caution.
Most people who sue a person or entity or who are being sued have a case that will be heard in a state court of the justice system. In most instances these state courts have sufficient power to hear and decide these matters. Federal courts represent a higher power and it is often the cases settled in these courts that result in establishing precedent – a principal of law that is relied upon in other courts as a basis for legal decision making. A legal precedent may be adopted by another court of law or it may be ignored or even overturned. However, many judges prefer to rely upon established precedent in order to ensure consistency throughout the justice system.
The highest court in America is the Supreme Court of the United States. This court was originally established by the Constitution and features nine justices. No higher court exists within the nation and a decision rendered by the Supreme Court is binding and not subject to further appeal. The court hears approximately 100 cases every year. Most of these cases are brought to the Supreme Court after a series of appeals in lower courts. They may also decide whether certain acts by the Executive branch of the government are Constitutional or interpret the intent of Congress when they passed a particular piece of legislation.
The American system of justice is among the most advanced in the world. Its intricate network of checks and balances makes the system as fair and impartial as it is possible to be. Although it is not perfect, many nonetheless regard the U.S. court system as being admirable and fair.