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5.1 The State Court System

Despite differences in structure and jurisdiction, all the states possess an integrated system of courts including superior courts, appellate courts and a state supreme court. The state courts play an important role, as they handle around nine - tenths of the total litigation in the U.S.

5.1a Superior Courts

Such courts function at the county level. These (superior, district or circuit) courts are the main courts of original jurisdiction, both for criminal and civil cases. Original jurisdiction is a courtís power to hear and determine cases in the first instance itself. They are also given exclusive jurisdiction in several cases such as those of divorce or those involving land titles. Criminal cases cover crimes including murder, armed robbery, rape, and also non-violent crimes like fraud. In most criminal cases, the defendant (who is charged with the crime), makes a plea bargain, thus pleading guilty to a lesser change in order to receive a less severe sentence. The plea bargain helps to save judicial time and money, as many criminal cases need not be brought to trial. Indictment is done by grand jury and trial by petit jury in criminal cases, for which the procedure is in accordance with what has been laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

States are divided into judicial circuits, each having several counties. The judge of a superior court is generally elected by popular vote. He moves from one county to another, within his circuit, and holds court in each county.

Civil cases may be divided into two categories: one, in which the U.S. government is one of the litigants and in the other case, both are private parties. Disputes regarding property, money, and contracts on personal well being such as malpractice, libel and personal injury lawsuits. In such cases the plaintiffs (who bring the suit), demand compensatory damages, financial aid to cover losses, and punitive damages, to prevent the defendant from engaging in such practices again. Class-action suits may also be termed as civil cases, in which compensation is distributed among a large number of people, who may be affected by asbestos products or products of tobacco companies, automobile manufacturers, or insurance companies for instance.

5.1b State Appellate Courts

Appeals from trial courts are taken to intermediate courts of appeal or to the state supreme court. These higher state courts are called appellate courts, as they generally do not posses original jurisdiction, and deal with the legal procedures or matters of law from the lower courts. The final judgment depends upon the majority vote. Thus appellate jurisdiction is the courtís power to review and decide cases on appeal, after they have been dealt with by inferior courts. A panel of five or seven judges instead of a jury are required to be present for the hearing of the cases. These judges are either elected, chosen by the legislature or appointed by the governor. In the appellate court, the original verdict can be reversed, or left to stand, or a new trial can be called for. However only a few cases are brought before the appellate courts.

5.1c State Supreme Courts

Regardless of the outcome at the appellate court level, the defendant may appeal to the state supreme court. Therefore this court is often referred to as the state court of last resort. The decisions of the state supreme court justices, have become the highest law in the state.

5.1d The Election of State Judges

The judges of the trial, appellate and state supreme courts are generally elected. The municipal and county judges hold office for a term of four years, while judges of the higher courts have eight to twelve-year terms. This enables judges to remain independent of political influence.

Several states have established administrative offices to give more efficient assistance to state chief justices and supreme courts. Interstate associations of trial judges, chief justices and court administrative officers continuously work towards improving the state judicial machinery and procedures.

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5.0 Introduction
5.1 The State Court System

5.2 The Federal Court System
5.3 The Supreme Court in Operation

Chapter 6

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