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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the dual court system and its three tiers
  • Explain how you are protected and governed by different U.S. court systems
  • Compare the positive and negative aspects of a dual court system

Before the writing of the U.S. Constitution and the establishment of the permanent national judiciary under Article III, the states had courts. Each of the thirteen colonies had also had its own courts, based on the British common law model. The judiciary today continues as a dual court system    , with courts at both the national and state levels. Both levels have three basic tiers consisting of trial court     s , appellate court     s , and finally courts of last resort, typically called supreme courts, at the top ( [link] ).

A chart that demonstrates the structure of the dual court system. At the top of the chart is a box labeled “U.S. Supreme Court”. There are boxes below it on either side, arranged in the shape of a triangle. On the left hand side of the triangle are two boxes. From bottom to top, the boxes are labeled “U.S. District Courts” and “U.S. Federal Courts.” An arrow points from the top of the box labeled “U.S. District Courts” to the box labeled “U.S. Federal Courts”. An arrow points from the top of the box labeled “U.S. Federal Courts” to the box labeled “U.S. Supreme Court”. On the right hand side of the triangle are three boxes. From bottom to top, the boxes are labeled “State Trial Courts”, “Intermediate Appellate Courts”, and “State Supreme Courts”. An arrow points from the top of the box labeled “State Trial Courts” to the bottom of the box labeled “Intermediate Appellate Courts”. An arrow points from the top of the box labeled “Intermediate Appellate Courts” to the bottom of the box labeled “State Supreme Courts”. An arrow points from the top of the box labeled “State Supreme Courts” to the bottom of the box labeled “U.S. Supreme Court”.
The U.S. judiciary features a dual court system comprising a federal court system and the courts in each of the fifty states. On both the federal and state sides, the U.S. Supreme Court is at the top and is the final court of appeal.

To add to the complexity, the state and federal court systems sometimes intersect and overlap each other, and no two states are exactly alike when it comes to the organization of their courts. Since a state’s court system is created by the state itself, each one differs in structure, the number of courts, and even name and jurisdiction. Thus, the organization of state courts closely resembles but does not perfectly mirror the more clear-cut system found at the federal level.

Bureau of International Information Programs, United States Department of State. Outline of the U.S. Legal System . 2004.
Still, we can summarize the overall three-tiered structure of the dual court model and consider the relationship that the national and state sides share with the U.S. Supreme Court, as illustrated in [link] .

Cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court come from two primary pathways: (1) the circuit courts, or U.S. courts of appeals (after the cases have originated in the federal district courts), and (2) state supreme courts (when there is a substantive federal question in the case). In a later section of the chapter, we discuss the lower courts and the movement of cases through the dual court system to the U.S. Supreme Court. But first, to better understand how the dual court system operates, we consider the types of cases state and local courts handle and the types for which the federal system is better designed.

Courts and federalism

Courts hear two different types of disputes: criminal and civil. Under criminal law    , governments establish rules and punishments; laws define conduct that is prohibited because it can harm others and impose punishment for committing such an act. Crimes are usually labeled felonies or misdemeanors based on their nature and seriousness; felonies are the more serious crimes. When someone commits a criminal act, the government (state or national, depending on which law has been broken) charges that person with a crime, and the case brought to court contains the name of the charging government, as in Miranda v. Arizona discussed below.

Miranda v. Arizona , 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
On the other hand, civil law    cases involve two or more private (non-government) parties, at least one of whom alleges harm or injury committed by the other. In both criminal and civil matters, the courts decide the remedy and resolution of the case, and in all cases, the U.S. Supreme Court is the final court of appeal.

Questions & Answers

what is government
Michael Reply
is the system to govern a state or community
what is government
what 2 important issues went unresolved in the constitution?
Queenie Reply
the 1957 Ghana constitution
Ahorlu Reply
The framers of the Constitution designed the Senate to filter the output of the sometimes hasty House. Do you think this was a wise idea? Why or why not?
Emily Reply
what is freedom?
syed Reply
what is political eqaulity
what is federalism?
Maria Reply
federalism Federalism is a system of government in which entities such as states or provinces share power with a national government. The United States government functions according to the principles of federalism.
panyaring means
meaning of panyaring
what is government
how is power dispered in American federalism?
Savannah Reply
how is power dispersed in American federalism?
what three factors molds nations, state, relations today
what three factors mold national,state relations today
In which areas do you think peoples rights and liberties are at risk of government intrusion?
camille Reply
whenever......new government
Marjan Reply
clearly,who was meant to be in charge of this new government?
What is and who is required to file a foreign agent registration statement form
David Reply
Anything on the Mayflower Compact
deborah Reply
What do you really mean by the final draft of articles
Eliza Reply
According to pluralist theory of government
Rachel Reply
Pluralist theory stating what?
What is government mean?
Benedict Reply
compare and contrast a federalist system of govt to a confederate system
Jewles Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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