Make your own free website on
SFA Class PSC 142.004

Please note:  This page is not intended to take the place of the lecture and reading assignments but as a study aid.  I would appreciate hearing from you on updating any missing information or misinformation so I can update it.  If we all work together we might create a site for this class and instructor that we can use in the future.  I have not attempted to include every detail but a general idea to help with remembering the information.  E-mail me at  Tee .

III.  American Courts (Ch. 15)

Current Events -- none

Alexis de Tocqueville stated "scarcely any political question arises in the U.S. that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question".

Hyperlexus -- litigation explosion, frivolous lawsuits

  1. 1.      jury ordered Las Vegas hotel to pay a woman $3M because she was raped in the hotel.  Was a hooker.
  2. 2       man fell through a skylight and won $26,000 + $1,500/mo.  He was trying to rob the place
  3. 3       Maryland - hot air balloon - went down in a lake and people put it into a commercial dryer which exploded,
  4.          $85,000 collected.
We have 52 separate legal systems. Question:  What is law?
Aristotle -- rule of conduct.
Plato -- form of social control.
Sir William Blackstone -- rule of civil conduct prescribed by a supreme power in a state commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong.

American law is based on the English legal system.  EXCEPTION:  Louisiana is based on Roman law (Napoleanic)

Roman law code -- provide rules comprehensive enough to settle all disputes.  Very precise and detailed but allows little discretion and flexibility or creativity.

English law -- common law and created on a case by case basis through real disputes and established by precedence.

Common law -- Judge made law that originated in England from decisions shaped according to prevailing custom.  Decisions were applied to similar situations and gradually became common to the nation.  Common law forms the basis of legal procedures in the 50 states.  A.K.A. case law which evolved into a system of rules but not a systematic code.

Statutes -- comes from England and means laws enacted by Parliament or "A law that is on the books".  The US Constitution is referred to as a law also.

We inherited from the Roman code our use of terms -- latin.

Stare Decisis -- To stand on decided cases; the policy of courts to follow precedents established by past decisions.

Precedent -- A court rule bearing on subsequent legal decisions in similar cases.  Judges rely on precedents in deciding cases.

Habeas Corpus, Writ of -- means literally, "you have the body."  An order that requires jailers to bring a person before a court or judge and explain why the person is being held in prison.

ultra vires -- beyond the powers;  Supreme Court uses this to strike down the constitutionality of acts passed by congress.  Act is beyond the powers of congress to pass.

Administrative law -- branch of public law that govern administrative and regulatory agencies and their activities.  They are Quasi  (almost) judicial.

Ex.   EPA -- investigating a plant emissions from a smokestack.  Plant says not harmful, EPA says it is.  All meet before a board from the EPA for them to present info and EPA rules on info.  Supreme Court will usually back them up.  They have the power to enforce their standards and regulations.

Criminal Law vs Civil Law

Criminal Law -- The law that defines crimes and provides punishment for violations.  In criminal cases, the govt. is the prosecutor, because are against the public order.  Injuries against society itself.

Capitol offenses -- criminal offenses subject to the death penalty.  In Texas, death by lethal injection.

  • In 1972, the Supreme court stated that the death penalty violated the 8th and 14th amendments.  It ruled that capital punishment is not necessarily cruel and unusual if the criminal has killed or attempted to kill someone.  The court invited the states to make more precise laws so that the death penalty would be applied more consistently.
  • Intentionally committing murder during a robbery is a capitol offense.
  • Aggravated rape:  Aggravated means using a weapon.
  • Murder for hire -- person doing the hiring is just as guilty as the murderer
  • Texas is a no hostage state.  This means that in the event of a prison break, hostages will be shot if necessary in order to prevent an inmate from escaping.

    TEST THURSDAY 4-15-99

    Current Events -- Still bombing Kosovo and clinton meeting with China about trade

    Non Capitol offenses -- criminal offenses not subject to the death penalty but is a crime against society. Includes Graded penalties providing different levels of punishment for offenses bsed on the severity of the crime.  Harsher penalties are included for repeat offenders.

    State Jail Felony -- lesser criminal offenses  4th degree; theft of $1,500 -- $20,000 and unauthorized use of a vehicle: confinement up to 2 yrs..

    3 Classes of Misdemeanors
    A. -- burglary of a vehicle: up to 1 yr.
    B. -- evading arrest, falsely impersonating an officer: up to 180 days
    C. -- theft less than $50, attending a dog fight: up to $500 fine

    Civil Law -- The law regulating conduct between private persons over non criminal matters.  Under civil law, the govt. provides he forum for the settlement of disputes between private parties in such matters as contracts, domestic relations, and business relations.  Relates in part to contracts among private individuals or companies and State is not a part in the case.

    Ex. from class:    Slander - may be true or false statements
    willful negligence -- wet floor signs
    liable -- false and malicious publications;  Carol Burnette seen in San Antonio restaurant by Nat'l Inquirer who
                published that she was drunk and disorderly.  Burnette sued and won.  Donated winning to charity.
    Criminal and Civil cases combined -- Drunken driver runs over and kills a pedestrian.  Criminal offense.  Family of pedestrian files civil suit for suffering and damages, etc... Civil suit.

    Examples of DWI (DUI) offense in other countries:

    Federal cases:  What constitutes a federal case?

    A.  Has to involve a federal law -- like the Constitution, federal regulation, federal treaty
    B.  Parties in case must have criteria or "Standing to sue" (4 elements and must contain all)
             1.  adverse parties -- truly hostile
             2.  substantial legal interest -- parties must stand to gain or loose something like life and or assets.
             3.  real set of facts
             4.  a legal question -- an enforceable determination of rights.
                        Ex.  An election with 1 party well qualified and the other not qualified and from a questionable background.
                              The person not qualified wins the election by stuffing the ballot box.  This would be a legal question.
                               However  if they won legally there is no problem.

    Class Action Suits -- A lawsuit filed by an individual seeking damages for "all persons similarly situated."  Group of people with the same lawsuit.  Lot of interest groups do this for ex. the NAACP.

    Federal Court System-- consists of 3 tiers
    1.  Supreme Court
    2.  Court of Appeals -- Intermediate
    3.  Trial Courts:  94 district courts

    A federal case begins with an arrest, appeal to grand jury of 20 people.  If jury declares crime committed there is an indictment and person must stand trial.

    Federal District Court -- each state has several & the judges are set by Congress.  They are the only federal courts who use a jury.  Usually conduct civil cases but also do criminal cases.

    Appellate Courts -- Court of Appeals.  Do not hear witnesses and no juries, main function is to examine record of original trial to determine if held correctly in accordance with the rules.  Under normal circumstances, this decision is final, but appeal to the Supreme Court is possible.  There are 12 Courts of  Appeals + 1 in D.C.

    Jurisdiction -- A court's authority to hear a particular case.

    Appellate Jurisdiction -- the power to hear and decide cases from lower courts and has the jurisdiction of being the original court (1st one to hear the case)

    Supreme Court Jurisdiction -- in all cases affecting foreign diplomats, in cases in which a state is a party.  Ex.  a border dispute between states, or cross border pollution

    The Supreme Court has the power to judge the law.  It gave itself this power through the Mulberry vs Madison case in 1803.

    Special Courts -- created by Congress

    General -- some don't have to have a law degree for ex.:  Municipal (city) judge and county judge because they do not hold court.

    Supreme Court Judges -- are seen as American elite and appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  Frequently white, Protestant, and influential.  Was closed to minorities until LBJ appointed Thurgood Marshall to Supreme Court.  Since that time we've had women appointed also.

    Senatorial Courtesy -- a Senate tradition allowing a senator of the president's political party to veto a judgeship appointment in his or her state simply by indicating that the appointment is personally not acceptable.  At that point, the Senate may reject the nomination, or the president may withdraw consideration of the nominee.

    All federal judges are appointed.  Once appointed to a judgeship, a person holds that job for life.  Judges serve until they resign, retire voluntarily, or die.  May be removed through impeachment.

    Every case that goes to the Supreme Court is not heard.  Court Justices use the law clerks to review the cases and write up a brief about it.  The brief is then submitted to the justices.  4 of the 9 have to rule to hear the case

    Rule of Four -- a U.S. Supreme Court procedure requiring 4 affirmative votes to hear the case before the full Court.

    The Supreme court normally does not hear any evidence.  1). Consideration of a case is based on the record and the briefs.  2.)  The attorneys are permitted to present oral arguments with 30 minutes granted to each side unless a special exception is granted.  3.)  All justices meet in conference to discuss and vote on the case.

    4 types of justice opinions -- The statement by a judge or a court of the decision reached in a case tried or argued before it.  The opinion sets forth the law that applies to the case and details the legal reasoning on which the judgment was based.  This document is written.

    1.  Unanimous Opinion -- all judges agree
    2.  Majority Opinion -- written, outlining the views of the majority of the justices involved.
    3.  Concurring Opinion -- A separate opinion, prepared by a judge who supports the decision of the majority of the court but who wants to make or clarify a particular point or to voice disapproval of the grounds on which the decision was made.
    4.  Dissenting Opinion -- A separate opinion in which a judge dissents from (disagrees with) the conclusion reached by the majority of the court and expounds his or her own views about the case.

    Congress can strike back against the Supreme Court rulings by the power of the purse.

    Test Thursday

    Texas court system -- contains appx. 3,000 courts, most complex in the US

    Municipal courts -- towns and cities (judicial bodies).  Cases involve both criminal and civil, traffic regulations, criminal class C misdemeanors, violations of city ordinances (laws).  Can't handle Class A & B misdemeanors.  Jury at city level -- 6 people.  Deals with the city.
    Ex.  barking dog

    Municipal judge -- gets this job through the city ordinances,  some have to be elected while others are appointed.  Do not have to have a law degree.

    Justice of the Peace -- also can handle Class C misdemeanors, criminal or civil cases.  Also functions asa small claims court.  Works the whole county, elected to a 4 yr term
    Ex.  Work done and pay not received.

    Magistrate -- Municipal judges and Justice's of the Peace are know as magistrates.  Issue warrants, search & arrest, conduct hearings.

    2 types of courts
    1.  Constitutional County Court -- established by the Texas constitution therefore there are 254 because that is the number of counties in the state.  Handle criminal and civil cases, class A & B misdemeanors, have original and appellate jurisdiction.
    2.  Statutory County Courts -- passed by the Texas legislature to handle the excess workload of the constitutional courts in the larger cities.  Handle the same types of cases and have same jurisdiction.  Comes from England.

    District Courts of Texas -- judges are elected (one's we see on TV), handle class A & B, crminal and civil cases, divorces.   Principle trial court.

    Texas Supreme Court -- divided into 2, only Tx and OK have a split supreme court

    Court of Appeals -- 14 judges, appellate jurisdiction,  justices vote by a simple majority, handle only civil cases.  9 (elected) Justices, all decisions are final.  Highest civil court in Tx.  Mostly handle writs of error , approve Tx law schools (whose accreditation comes from the law board) and approve the board of examiners.

    Rules of Criminal Procedures are made by the legislature.

    Criminal court of Appeals -- handle only criminal cases, 9 (elected) Justices, all decisions are final,  judge is elected

    Juries -- 2 types Grand and trial The state's Bill of Rights guarantees that individuals may be charged with a felony only by grand jury indictment.  Also guarantees that anyone charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor has the right to trial by jury.

    Grand Jury -- A jury called to hear evidence and determine whether indictments should be issue against persons suspected of having committed crimes.  Decide whether there is enough evidence to warrant a formal accusation by the state of wrongdoing; they do not determine guilt.  12 people

    True Bill-- enough evidence to warrant a trial on an indictment.
    No Bill -- not enough evidence to warrant further action.

    Rehabilitation vs Punishment

    Confinement in a prison or jail is designed to punish lawbreakers, deter others from committing similar crimes, and isolate offenders from society, thus protecting the lives and property of citizens who might otherwise become victims of criminals.  Ideally, while serving a sentence behind bars, a lawbreaker will be rehabilitated.

    There are over 107 prisons in Texas which house appx. 2,000 inmates each.  Appx 140,000 inmates incarcerated today.

    Tx Dept of Criminal Justice -- headed by Tx Board of Criminal Justice, composed of nine members appointed by the governor, dual headquarters in Huntsville and Austin.

    Huntsville is the headquarters of the Institutional Division of the TDCJ.

    recidivism -- criminal behavior resulting in reimprisonment after release.

    Every prisoner must be given a job but may elect not to work.  Some return to school and others sit in their cell.  The jobs are in a variety of prison-owned industries.  Any inmate who cannot read at the 6th grade level must be taught to read.  Almost 80% incarcerated due to drug problems.

    Local Government Jails
    County -- operate under the direction of the county sheriff.
    City -- some are used primarily as "drunk tanks"