The courts are the overseers of the law. They administer it, they resolve disputes under it, and they ensure that it is and remains equal to and impartial for everyone.
In the United States each state is served by the separate court systems, state and federal. Both systems are organized into three basic levels of courts — trial courts, intermediate courts of appeal and a high court, or Supreme Court. The state courts are concerned essentially with cases arising under state law, and the federal courts with cases arising under federal law.
Trial courts bear the main burden in the administration of justice. Cases begin there and in most instances are finally resolved there.
The trial courts in each state include: common pleas courts, which have general civil and criminal jurisdiction and smaller in importance municipal courts, county courts and mayors' courts.
The common pleas court is the most important of the trial courts. It is the court of general jurisdiction — almost any civil or criminal case, serious or minor, may first be brought there. In criminal matters, the common pleas courts have exclusive jurisdiction over felonies (a felony is a serious crime for which the penalty is a penitentiary term or death). In civil matters it has exclusive jurisdiction in probate, domestic relations and juvenile matters. The probate division deals with wills and the administration of estates, adoptions, guardianships. It grants marriage licenses to perform marriages. The domestic division deals with divorce, alimony, child custody.
The juvenile division has jurisdiction over delinquent, unruly or neglected children and over adults, who neglect, abuse or contribute to the delinquency of children. When a juvenile (any person under 18) is accused of an offence, whether serious, or minor, the juvenile division has exclusive jurisdiction over the case.
The main job of courts of appeal is to review cases appealed from trial courts to determine if the law was correctly interpreted and applied.
The supreme court of each state is primarily a court of appeal and the court of last resort.
The federal court structure is similar to the structure of the state court system. The trial courts in the federal system are the United States district courts. The United States courts of appeal are intermediate courts of appeal between the district courts and the United States Supreme Court.
The US Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation and the court of last resort. It consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices, all of whom are appointed for life by the President with the Advice and Consent of the Senate. The duty of the Supreme Court is to decide whether laws passed by Congress agree with the Constitution. The great legal issues facing the Supreme Court at present are Government involvement with religion, abortion and privacy rights, race and sex discrimination.
1. As you read the text a) look for the answers to these questions:
1. What is the dual court system existing in the USA? What three levels of courts does it consist of? 2. What is the jurisdiction of the trial court? Define the jurisdiction of the common pleas court. 3. What kind of civil matters are brought to common pleas courts? Elaborate on probate, domestic relation and juvenile matters. 4. Speak about the jurisdiction of state and federal courts of appeals and state supreme courts. 5. What is the duty of the US Supreme Court?
b) Summarize the text in 3 paragraphs, specifying the following: 1) the dual system of the US courts; 2) trial courts — courts of general Jurisdiction; 3) the US Supreme Court — the court judging the most explosive issues in American life.
2. Study the following text, a) Extract the necessary information about law enforcement in the USA:
A criminal case begins when a person goes to court and files a complaint that another person has committed an offence. This is followed by issuing either an arrest warrant or a summons. A criminal case is started when an indictment is returned by a grand jury before anything else happens in the case. Indictments most often are felony accusations against persons who have been arrested and referred to the grand jury. After an accused is indicted, he is brought into court and is told about the nature of the charge against him and asked to plead. He can plead guilty, which is the admission that he committed the crime and can be sentenced without a trial. He can plead not guilty and be tried.
As a general rule the parties to civil suits and defendants in criminal cases are entitled to trial by jury of 12 jurors. But a jury is not provided unless it is demanded in writing in advance of the trial; in this case a civil or a criminal case is trial to the judge alone, greater criminal cases are tried to a three-judge panel.
In trial by the jury the attorneys for each party make their opening statements. The prosecution presents its evidence based on the criminal investigation of the case.
The attorney for the defence pleads the case of the accused, examines his witnesses and cross-examines the witnesses for the prosecution. Both, the prosecution and the defence, try to convince the jury. When all the evidence is in, the attorneys make their closing arguments to the jury with the prosecutor going first. Both attorneys try to show the evidence in the most favourable light for their sides. But if one of them uses improper material in his final argument the opponent may object, the objection may be ruled out by the judge who will instruct the jury to disregard what was said or may be sustained. After this the judge proceeds to instruct the jury on its duty and the jury retires to the jury room to consider the verdict. In civil cases at least three-fourths of the jurors must agree on the verdict. In a criminal case there must not be any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused, the verdict must be unanimous.
The next stage is for the judge to decide, in case of a verdict of guilty, what sentence to impose on the convict.
b) Use the material of the text and the topical vocabulary in answering the following questions:
1. Who are the participants in the legal procedure? 2. In what way does a legal procedure start a) in civil cases, b) in criminal cases? 3. Describe the procedure of the trial in the American court of common pleas. 4. What kinds of offences are known to you? Specify the felony and misdemeanor. 5. What penalties and sentences are imposed in the US courts?
3. Do library research and a) speak about the structure of the Russian courts. The following terms might be useful:
the electivity of the people's court; social lawfulness; city courts; regional courts; supreme courts; people's courts; hearing of cases in courts of law; people's judge; people's assessor; courts of first instance; legal assistance; presumption of innocence.
b) Give brief information on Russian law enforcement. Consider the following:
1. the jurisdiction of the Russian court; 2. the legal procedure of the trial; 3. the joint trial by a judge and two people's assessors; 4. the basic principle of the legal procedure — "presumption of innocence".