"The criminal process begins when a law is first broken and extends through the arrest, indictment, trial, and appeal."¹ The federal court system has a process at a national level, while each state and territory has its own set of rules and regulations which affect the judicial process. Although there are norms and similarities, no state has an identical justice system.¹
Simply because an act is hurtful or sinful does not automatically make it a crime. To be a crime, an action must be in specific violation of a criminal statute enacted by Congress, a state legislature, or some other public authority. A crime is a violation of obligations due the community as a whole and can be punished only by the state.¹ In the U.S., most crimes are either sins of commission or sins of omission. A sin of commission could be aggravated assault or embezzlement, and a sin of omission could be failing to stop and render aid after a traffic accident or failing to file an income tax return.¹
There are two different kinds of courts²:
- State courts: Most legal issues get resolved in state trial courts, which are the courts at the lowest tier in a state's court system. Most states have two levels of trial courts, which are trial courts with limited jurisdiction and trial courts with specific jurisdiction. Jurisdiction refers to the types of cases a court can hear. Every state has a court, which many call "a court of last resort". Generally, it is referred to as the "supreme court". Supreme court decisions are final, but sometimes can be appealed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Federal courts: The federal court system is divided into districts and circuits. Federal lawsuits start out at a district level and most of them are civil, not criminal, cases involving legal issues. A federal circuit includes more than one district and is home to a Federal Court of Appeal. At the very top of the federal court system is the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. legal system is based on the adversarial process, meaning that all court procedures believe that all parties in a legal dispute must have an equal opportunity to state their case to a neutral jury or judge and to poke holes in what the other side says.²
There are four categories of crime¹:
- Conventional Crimes: property crimes make up 31.3 million conventional crimes committed annually in the U.S. A property crime example would be a burglary. The rarer convention crimes are those against the person, like violence including murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
- Economic Crimes: there are four types of economic crimes, including personal crimes (nonviolent criminal activity), abuse of trust (business or government employees violate their fidelity to their employer), business crimes (misleading advertising, violations of antitrust laws, etc.), and con games (which are white-collar criminal activities committed under the guise of a business).
- Syndicated, or Organized, Crimes: a syndicated crime is engaged in by groups of people and is often directed on some type of hierarchical basis. It represents an ongoing activity that is inexorably entwined with fear and corruption.
- Political Crimes: this usually constitutes an offense against the government, meaning treason, armed rebellion, assassination of public officials, and sedition.
- Consensual Crimes: so-called victimless crime, such as prostitution, gambling, illegal drug use, and unlawful sexual practices between consenting adults, is called consensual because both perpetrator and client desire the forbidden activity.
A US Court Procedure usually goes as follows:
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statements
- Presentation of Evidence and Testimony of Witnesses
- Closing Arguments
- Presentation of Jury Instructions
1. IIP Digital. U.S. Criminal Court Process. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/publication/2008/05/20080522220810eaifas0.9525873.html#axzz31VQVdUVd
2. Getting to Know the U.S. Court Systems. For Dummies. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/getting-to-know-the-us-court-systems.html
3. Types of Trials & Court Procedure in the US. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.legallanguage.com/legal-articles/types-of-trials/