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Learning Objectives

After reading this information and Chapter Four of your text, you should understand:
  • The various types of courts (and their functions) within the federal court system and the state court systems.
  • Court arrangements and key actors in a trial.
  • The various stages that make up the criminal trial process.


1. What are the 7 different types of jurisdiction and what do they do?
a. Personal jurisdiction - the authority of the court over a person.
b. Subject Matter jurisdiction - the authority of the court to hear a particular type of case.
c. Geographical jurisdiction - authority of the court to hear a case within specific boundaries.
d. Hierarchical jurisdiction - the division of responsibilities and functions among different courts.
e. General jurisdiction - a court's ability to hear a variety of different cases.
f. Original jurisdiction - the court's power to hear the case initially.
g. Appellate jurisdiction - the power of the courts to review a lower court's decision.

2. How many federal district courts are there?
In total there are 94 U.S. district courts. Some states, such as Alaska, are composed of a single judicial district. Others, such as California, are composed of multiple judicial districts. There are 89 districts in the 50 states. District courts also exist in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

3. How many court of appeals are there?
There are 13 judicial circuits, each with a court of appeals. The smallest court is the First Circuit with six judgeships, and the largest court is the Ninth Circuit, with 28 judgeships. A list of the states that compose each circuit is set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Section 41. The number of judgeships in each circuit is set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Section 44.

4. How are potential jury members selected?
a. Potential jurors are randomly selected by drawing them at random from electoral rolls (known as allotment or sortition), lists of licensed drivers, or other broad-based lists of residents in the community.
b. They are questioned through the process referred to as voir dire, where they are examined by the judge and/or the attorneys for the prosecution and defense to determine whether they have any bias, prejudice, or interest that would prevent them from being impartial.
c. Courts combine multiple lists to compile the master jury list

5. Who are the 3 key actors in the court and what are their responsibilities?
a. Judges
  • Hears all the witnesses and any other evidence presented by the parties of the case, assesses the credibility of the parties, and then issues a ruling on the matter at hand based on his or her interpretation of the law and his or her own personal judgement.
b. Prosecutors
  • Prosecute cases in the name of the people, but also do justice by pursuing only those who have committed crimes.
c. Defense Attorneys
  • Ensure that defendants' rights are not violated, make sure defendants know all their options before they make a decision, provide defendants with the best possible defense, investigate and prepare a defense, and argue for the lowest possible sentence or best possible plea bargain.
**The Grand Jury, although not mentioned in the text is also a key actor in the criminal trial process. A criminal trial in Ohio will not occur without a Grand Jury Indictment.

Here is a quick example:
A 21 year old woman is arrested and charged with attempted murder of her boyfriend of three years. She has been held without bond due to the nature of her crime. The prosecutor (who usually does it in Franklin County) will present all of the evidence he or she has against the defendant to the Grand Jury and the Grand Jury will decide whether or not there is enough evidence to indict the woman on the charges and put her on trial. Thr Grand Jury must have 16 to 23 members on it and in order to be indicted, they only need 12 votes.

6. What are the stages of the Federal Criminal Trial Process?

The Initial Investigation
Preliminary Proceedings
Arrest Warrant
Bail in Federal Criminal Court - Getting out of Jail
The Grand Jury: To Indict or not Indict, that is the question
Your Initial Appearance
Pretrial Motions
Example of a Pretrial Motion
Pleading Guilty or Going to Trial


Chapter 4 Key Terms:

+Alford Plea- a plea in which the defendant enters a guilty plea but at the same time officially denies having committed the the crime to which he or she is pleading.

+Booking- an administrative procedure that involves making an entry in the police blotter at the station indicating the suspect's name, arrest time, offense, and the taking of fingerprints and photographs.

+Challenge for Cause- a challenge in which a valid reason for wanting to dismiss a potential jury member is shown to the court's satisfaction. Usually involves demonstrating that a potential juror cannot be unbiased or impartial.

+Circuit Court- the courts of appeals, the next level above district court in the federal system.

+Common Law-
law developed by judges through decisions of other courts and similar tribunals, rather than through legislative statutes or executive action.

+Complaint- an accusation on a formal document that may be filled out by an officer or a private citizen accusing a specified person or persons of committing a specified act or acts

+District Court- the trial court, the court of original jurisdiction, for the federal court system.

+Felonies- defined in most jurisdictions as crimes for which the possible punishment includes a sentence of imprisonment for at least one year.

+Habeas Corpus- a document challenging the legality of a person's detention.

+Initial Appearance- the first court appearance by a suspect/ defendant, which takes place in a municipal or justice of the peace court. It is here that suspects.

+Jurisdiction- denotes the legal authority or power of a court to hear, pronounce on, and decide a case.

+Jury Consultants- experts hired by attorneys to help them determine what type of person is more likely to favor their side.

+Nolo Contendere- a plea in which the defendant accepts whatever punishment the court would impose on a guilty defendant, but refuses to admit liability. Also referred to as a "no contest" plea. It is frequently used by defendants who fear being exposed to civil liability for their criminal misdeeds and a guilty plea would so expose them.

+Peremptory Challenge- one for which no reason need be given. While challenges for cause are unlimited, peremptory challenges are usually limited to a certain number. The Supreme Court has held that peremptory challenges may not be used to exclude potential jurors on the basis of race (Batson v. Kentucky,1986) or gender (J.E.B. v. Alabama, 1994).

+Preliminary Hearing- here the magistrate determines if there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed, and that it was the defendant who committed it.

+Probable Cause- a legal concept referring to the amount of proof a police officer must have to search or arrest someone.

+Rule of Four- a Supreme Court rule which requires that only four of the nine justices need to vote to accept a petition for a writ of certiorari in order for it to be issued, even though it takes five of nine justices for a majority to decide the case.

+Standing Mute- means that the defendant is refusing to plead. In the instances, the court enters a not guilty plea on behalf of defendant, thus preserving the constitutional right to trial.

+Stare Decisis- "Maintain what has been decided and do not alter that which has been established" is the legal principle by which judges are obliged to obey the precedents established by prior decisions.

+Supreme Court- the third and final tier in the federal court system. This is the court of last resort for all cases arising in the federal system, as well as all cases in state courts that involve a federal constitutional issue. All Supreme Court decisions are precedents that bind all lower federal and state courts..

+Trial de Novo- literally, a new trial. It is a trial held as if no prior trial has been held. Often used as an appeal from small claims courts.are informed of their constitutional rights, the nature of the charges against them, and a bail decision is made.

+Venire- the legal term for summoning jurors, which is Latin for " to cause" or to " make come" ( to the courthouse).

1. Law.
a. the place of a crime or cause of action.
b. the county or place where the jury is gathered and the cause tried.

+Voir Dire- Latin for "to speak the truth." it refers to the process of questioning potential jurors to determine whether they are fit to serve on a jury.

+Writ of Certiorari- an order by a higher court directing a lower court, tribunal, or public authority to send the record in a given case for review.

* Definition from
+ Definition from Law, Justice, and Society (Walsh, Hemmens)

Notes, Pictures & Videos
The Supreme Court was first called to assembly on Feb. 1, 1790, in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City, then the Nation's Capital. The first Supreme Court was made up of:

Chief Justice:
-John Jay, from New York

Associate Justices:
- John Rutledge, from South Carolina
- William Cushing, from Massachusetts
- James Wilson, from Pennsylvania
- John Blair, from Virginia
- James Iredell, from North Carolina

Due to transportation problems, Chief Justice Jay had to postpone the first actual meeting of the Supreme Court until the next day, Feb. 2, 1790.
The Supreme Court spent its first session organizing itself and determining its own powers and duties. The new Justices heard and decided their first actual case in 1792.

Marbury v. Madison was the first case to start the structure and process for appealing to the Supreme Court.

Q: Who appoints Federal judges?

Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, and district court judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate, as stated in the Constitution. The names of potential nominees often are recommended by senators or sometimes members of the House who are of the President's political party. The Senate Judiciary Committee typically conducts confirmation hearings for each nominee. Article III of the Constitution states that these judicial officers are appointed for a life term. The federal Judiciary, the Judicial Conference of the United States, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts play no role in the nomination and confirmation process(

Current U.S. Supreme Court Justices (see picture below in images)

supreme court seal

Chief Justice

~ John Roberts

Associate Justices

Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Anthony Kennedy
Antonin Scalia
David Hackett Souter
John Paul Stevens
Clarence Thomas

Structure of the courtsOhio Judicial StructureCurrent Supreme Court justicesFederal Court Structure
The Supreme Court of the United States: (seated left to right) Justice Kennedy,
Justice Stevens, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Souter (standing),
Justice Breyer, Justice Thomas, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Alito.

[Untitled] The Structure of the Courts - Law and Society Wiki


Obama v. Alito: Political dust-up during State of the Union

WASHINGTON - Sonia SotomayorThe Structure of the Courts - Law and Society Wiki was sworn in Saturday as the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice and only the third female member in the top U.S. court's 220-year history. She is President Barack Obama'sThe Structure of the Courts - Law and Society Wiki first appointment to the influential court, which has shaped many of the country's laws on polarizing issues like abortion and the death penalty. As a successor to liberal Justice David Souter, who retired, she is not expected to alter the nine-member court's ideological balance. Sotomayor took the second of two oaths of office Saturday from Chief Justice John Roberts in an ornate conference room, beneath a portrait of the legendary Chief Justice John MarshallThe Structure of the Courts - Law and Society Wiki. Her left hand resting on a Bible that was held by her mother, Celina, Sotomayor pledged to "do equal right to the poor and to the rich."


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