A Synopsis of the American Legal System
America is known for having one of the most complex legal systems all over the world. The system bases itself on federal law but is supported by laws that are passed by state legislatures. The rights and freedoms that American citizens enjoy are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The US constitution and American law apply to everyone within the country irrespective of their immigration status or citizenship. Besides this, even those who immigrated to the US illegally also enjoy most of the basic rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
The US constitution stipulates that every state in the union can establish its own unique system of civil and criminal laws. This means that the country has 50 dissimilar state legal systems that are supported by different laws, law enforcement agencies, courts, and even prisons. There is also a huge difference between local and state laws, which means that one must understand the laws of another state before moving there.
The US Judiciary
This is an autonomous arm of the US government. It comprises the US Court of Appeals, the US District Courts, and the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in America’s legal system. It is made of 9 judges appointed by the president to serve for life. The decisions made by these officials is final and binding. When it comes to determining cases, the Supreme Court typically evaluates the activities of federal and state governments before deciding whether these laws are constitutional or not. The court has the power to even nullify laws that have been passed by Congress. This proves how powerful it is.
This is a distinct system of courts, which typically operates together with state courts. Federal courts mainly deal with cases that arise under any treaty or law, or the US constitution. They similarly hear and determine cases pertaining to disputes between state governments. Cases that fall within the jurisdiction of federal courts are often heard by federal district judges.
Criminal and Civil Courts
There is a clear distinction and separation between American civil courts and criminal courts. Generally, the former handle disputes such as child custody after divorce while the latter prosecute individuals who violate the law. Crimes may either be categorized as felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are serious crimes such as drug dealing and robbery.
Those who are found guilty of such crimes are often sentenced to jail. Misdemeanors are lesser violations including illegal parking or dropping litter. Individuals who are charged with misdemeanors are often issued with summons or even left with a warning. Regardless of the violation that one commits, it is advisable to involve a lawyer who will help hasten the bail process or represent them in court. The US legal system has a provision for plea bargaining. This entails the defense and prosecution making a deal in such a way that the accused pleads guilty to a less serious charge.