Chapter 2: The Court System

The Federal Court System

Federal courts hear cases involving: FEDERAL MATTERS, which are cases that raise questions about constitutionality, and DIVERSITY OF CITIZENSHIP (cases involving citizens of different states and amount of money in dispute is greater than $75,000).



  • Have jurisdiction (power and authority to hear a case and make a judgment) over cases in which the U.S. or one state, such as Ohio, is a party (Example: U.S. v. Microsoft)


Structured in three levels:

1) U.S District Courts - try cases the first time it's heard (original jurisdiction)

2) U.S. Court of Appeals (appellate courts) - intermediate courts between lower courts and the highest courts

  • hear appeals and review cases from lower courts
  • have appellate jurisdiction - any party to a suit decided in federal district court may appeal to the federal court of appeals

3) U.S. Supreme Court - the highest court in the land

  • hear cases involving constitutionality of federal law
  • 4 of 9 justices decide which extra cases will be heard from the U.S. courts of appeals or state supreme courts

The State Court Systems

Local Trial Courts

  • Courts of LIMITED JURISDICTION - they handle minor matters, such as misdemeanors and civil actions involving small amounts of money.


General Trial Courts

  • Each county in most states has at least 1

  • The cases that begin here involve: MAJOR CRIMES and LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY.


Special Courts
DOMESTIC RELATIONS COURT-handle divorce, annulment & dissolution proceedings

Juvenile Courts have jurisdiction over the following:

DELINQUENT children - minor who committed an adult crime


UNRULY children – minor who has done something inappropriate ~ not considered an adult crime


ABUSED or NEGLECTED children - those who are considered homeless, destitute, or without adequate parental care ~ may become a ward of the state

What are the differences between a civil case and a criminal case?

In a civil case the injured party begins the suit against another person regarding the legal duties and responsibilities they owe one another. These cases generally only result in monetary damages or an order to do or not do something.


To begin a civil case, the plaintiff (the person filing the case) must file a formal complaint (papers) with the court. In Licking County, the civil complaint fee is $200.

The criminal case begins with the arrest of the defendant (the person accused of a crime).


Criminal cases are considered offenses against the state, or society as a whole. These cases will have jail time or even death as a punishment, and sometimes also monetary fines.


Crimes must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." This means the judge or jurors have no doubt the defendant committed the crime--there is no other logical explanation. Civil cases are proven by "the preponderance of the evidence," which means the issue most likely occurred and can be proven with clear and convincing evidence.


Criminal cases are typically decided by a jury and while some civil cases are heard by a jury, many are decided by a judge.


In a criminal case, the defendant is entitled to an attorney and will be appointed one if they cannot afford to hire their own. The defendant in a civil case must provide for their own attorney or defend themselves.

Big picture

First step of a jury trial is jury selection.

During the jury selection process the lawyers question each potential juror to find out if they will be fair or prejudiced.
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Criminal Trial Procedures

Arrest of the Defendant

You can be arrested anytime, if the police have a warrant, or if they believe a person has committed a crime.


Rights of the Defendant

You must be informed of your constitutional rights when being interrogated by police.


Miranda warnings-(
Miranda vs. Arizona)
You must be told what crimes you are being arrested for; names of the police officers making the arrest; right to a telephone call; right to speak with an attorney and have one present during questioning---if they can’t afford an attorney, the court must appoint one at no cost; right to remain silent

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJ7ooBJ_DEU

Search and Seizure

A police officer can search a person, car, house only when given permission or with a warrant, unless you are a student at school.


A police officer can conduct a limited search, a frisk to search for a weapon, if you have been arrested.


Plain-view exception - police can seize illegal items that are in plain view (or plain smell) without obtaining a warrant

The Arraignment

During the arraignment, subjects must go before the court asap after the arrest to be told of the complaint and his/her rights

  • judge could dismiss the complaint or decide that there is probable cause that they committed a crime

Grand Jury

The grand j ury of inquiry made up of citizens who will decide whether there is enough evidence to accuse the person of the crime

  • Conduct a preliminary hearing to determine whether someone will stand trial

  • hears evidence and testimony of witnesses