Independent courts such as the state courts play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring a fair and impartial justice system throughout the United States.
Diving deeper, it deems essential to underline that state courts are devoid of external influence and pressure, which makes it easier for the judges to make decisions based solely on the concept of law and evidence that are brought into play during the proceedings of a case.
Complementing the same, they are not obligated to follow any political or personal interests, which ensures the pronouncement of a fair and balanced judgment.
The independence of state courts allows them to maintain a vital check on the powers of the executive and legislative branches of government.
On the same lines, it is important to emphasize the fact that, by providing a separate and impartial forum for dispute resolution, courts are bestowed with the authority to prevent the abuse of superiority as well as work towards the protection of individual rights.
Running parallelly is the concept that state courts interpret and apply the law consistently, which in turn aids in the creation of legal precedents serving as an organized guide for future cases.
Such aforementioned idea of consistency fosters predictability, which helps individuals and organizations to rely on established legal principles when making authoritative decisions as well as engaging in legal transactions.
Talking further is the essence of fundamental rights. The state courts prevailing in the United States justice system play a crucial role in bestowing the protection of fundamental rights and liberties to the citizens.
Not only do they safeguard the aforesaid but they also make it certain that laws and government actions are in sync with the guards offered by the constitution, providing a forum for individuals so they are able to challenge any infringements upon their rights.
It is important to specify that state courts have been termed as neutral and balanced platforms for resolving any and all issues prevailing between parties, ranging from individuals, corporations, or even government entities and authorities.
For the purposes of peacefully resolving conflicts and maintaining social order, the aforementioned courts extend an organized, fair, and unbiased process of justice to their citizens.
To help in the shaping of the constantly changing body of law, state courts are bestowed with the power to interpret as well as provide clarity pertaining to any legal statute or principle.
Through their accurate judgments, the aforesaid courts contribute to the ongoing development and adaptation of legal frameworks so as to meet the societal needs and changes under the legal system.
1. The State Courts and Their Duties
In the United States legal system, the state courts serve to have a very essential role in the maintenance of decorum, bestowment of justice and safeguarding the citizen’s fundamental rights.
On the same lines, there are additional duties of the state courts, that must be fulfilled which are as mentioned below:
1.1. Protections Bestowed Against Government Abuses
State courts are authorized to perform checks and supervise all the branches of government such as the legislative, executive, and administrative.
From making sure that government actions are within the bounds of the law to put in the forefront that no action must infringe on any citizen’s individual rights, the aforementioned courts take care of every aspect.
Through the process of judicial review, the aforesaid courts have the power to declare laws or government actions as unconstitutional as well as simultaneously strike them down if they violate fundamental rights.
1.2. The Minority Rights are Safeguarded
State courts have a great part to play in the protection of the rights granted to minorities and individuals who may be in some way or other, either marginalized or deprived.
Not only do they provide a platform where such aforesaid individuals can seek redressal followed by challenging the discriminatory practices or policies but also engage in upholding the constitutional principles through which the courts pay back the citizens by promoting equality and preventing the tyranny of the majority.
1.3 Access to Justice
The state court system has been curated in such a way, that it is accessible to all the citizens, irrespective of their social, economic, financial, or political standing.
From seeking proper resolutions for their disputes to making sure their cases are heard by an impartial judge, the state courts provide a wide platform to ensure justice is appropriately served.
Such a step makes it a point that the process of granting equal treatment under the law is upheld and maintained as well and the promotion of principles such as fairness and justice is given prime importance.
1.4 The Structure of the State and Federal Court Systems
A system of dual courts comprising both state and federal courts is found in most of the countries including the United States of America.
Speaking about state courts, from criminal offences, and civil disputes to family law, and property law, cases pertaining to the aforesaid are handled by the said courts.
Running parallel to the aforementioned, dealing primarily with cases involving federal laws, constitutional issues, disputes between states, and cases involving the federal government, are the renowned federal courts.
5. The concept of specialized jurisdiction: Within the jurisdiction of both state and federal court systems, falls the idea of specialized courts who are authorized to handle specific areas of law.
Taking as an illustration is the fact that, separate family courts, juvenile courts, or tax courts are some types of courts that fall under the ambit of specialized courts.
Such aforementioned courts allow for greater expertise in handling cases related to those specific areas pertaining to the law as well as making sure that the legal process is efficient and effective.
2. The Hierarchy of The Courts
Having 3 stages, the structure of the court system in many countries, standing inclusive of the United States, is briefly detailed below:
2.1. The Trial Courts
Standing at the first level are the trial courts where cases are initially filed and heard. Depending solely on the jurisdiction it possesses, such courts can be known as district courts, circuit courts, or superior courts.
From conducting trials, and receiving evidence, to making initial determinations of fact and law, the trial courts are bestowed with the responsibility of identifying and executing the aforesaid.
These courts handle a wide range of cases, standing inclusive of criminal trials, civil disputes, family law matters, as well as any other type of legal matters.
2.2 Intermediate Courts
Intermediate courts, also referred to as appellate courts, are next in the court hierarchy after trial courts. The main duty of these courts is to handle appeals that are curated based on the orders passed by the trial courts.
Parties who are dissatisfied with the decisions granted by the trial courts are authorized to file for an appeal so as to have their case reviewed by the appellate court for a better sense of perspective of the trial court.
From focusing on examining legal issues as well as identifying any errors made in the application of the law during the trial court proceedings to making sure they are not retrying any cases or considering bringing new evidence to light, the appellate courts are known as courts who review the record of the lower court to determine if any mistakes were made.
The decisions of the appellate courts can affirm, reverse, or modify the lower court’s decision.
2.3 The Court of Last Resort
Serving as the highest level in the court system is the Court of last resort also known as the supreme court. The said court, that is the Supreme Court of the United States, is bestowed with the power to be termed as the final authority in their designated jurisdiction.
Not only this, but they are also given the power to hear appeals from the lower, or intermediate appellate courts.
Diving deeper, the court of last resort solely focuses on resolving important legal issues followed by setting legal precedents that shall serve as the primary basis for future cases.
Not only this, but the fact that their decisions are typically binding on lower courts within their jurisdiction is also one of the core features of the aforesaid court.
To have significant implications for the interpretation and development of the law is what defines the court of last resort.
Deeming it highly crucial, the structure and names of the courts vary to a great extent depending on the country and its legal system.
The three-layered structure is generally the kind of system that is common and such a framework is found in many legal systems, but there can be variations in terms of having additional specialized courts within its basic structure.
3. The United States and The State Courts
The United States Constitution states only the necessity of the curation of the Supreme Court whereas bringing to existence, any other lower federal courts were always in the hands of Congress.
The concept of only taking up cases that have been specified under Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution was only if the federal courts have jurisdiction over the same, hence they are known as “limited jurisdiction” courts.
On the same lines, it is essential to put forth that, the Constitution does put emphasis on bringing to play the creation of state courts, which, complemented by the idea of their duties identified under the state law, would perform the functions of federal jurisdiction, only if Congress chose not to take the responsibility for the establishment of lower federal courts.
Talking about the prevalence of the same today, state courts are authorized to hear cases that involve federal jurisdiction, such as claims that arise under federal statutes or the U.S. Constitution, unless Congress has expressly stated that such a hearing stands outside the jurisdiction of the aforesaid courts.
Take, as an illustration, the fact that Congress has done the aforementioned in the cases pertaining to claims where the United States is a party.
What is known as the backbone of the United States judicial system, is called the state courts. From having cases pertaining to state or local laws to having matters ranging from civil or criminal nature, all of the aforesaid are processed in state courts.
From small claims court, which is a type of state court with limited jurisdiction to superior court which is a state court of general jurisdiction position in California curated by the country, there are numerous kinds of state courts brought into existence in the country.
Not only this but state courts of different kinds are found in different states. Be it county court, district court, circuit court or even known bizarrely as Supreme court in New York, state courts are various in nature.
Ranging from the probate division or the family law division, there are several distinguished departments in the aforementioned general jurisdiction courts.
On the same lines, the establishment of specialized courts such as juvenile courts or, in Delaware, the Chancery Court for business law cases has also been witnessed under the state court’s structure.
The Difference Between Intermediate and Supreme Courts
Running parallelly on the similar thought process is the fact that many states have an intermediate appellate court system which stands very similar to the federal circuit courts.
As they are courts organized by larger geographical areas, the names they are given equally vary from each other.
In various cities in the United States, as an illustration, the Court of Appeal for the 1st District in California as well as in some states, they are famously known as the Appellate Department of the jurisdictional trial court.
Being at the last stage of the judicial system is the Court of Appeals which is mandated to be curated by all the states.
Generally, they are called the particular city’s supreme court, however, in the state of New York, they are known as the Court of Appeals, since New York has termed its general trial court as the supreme court itself.
Differing in many states, as well as in the federal system, are the roles of intermediate appellate courts and the Supreme Court.
In order to fix the errors of law made by trial courts which are generally seen through right-to-appeal cases that arise due to the orders given by the lower court, is the sole reason for the initiation of intermediate courts.
On the other hand, the concept of “courts of law, not of error,” is seen in the supreme courts which refers to the fact the protection given to individuals from the errors of trial courts is placed on a lower pedestal when compared to the important legal issues brought to existence that stands beneficial for the broader public good.
Diving deeper into the said concept, due to aforesaid duty, the supreme courts are bestowed with the power, by the legislature of having huge discretion in terms of which cases they will review and process.
Taking as an illustration is the idea of the U.S. Supreme Court, which, emphasizing the aforementioned, takes into account no cases that revolve around appeals.
In fact, the power of review is processed by the Supreme Court by granting a writ of certiorari which places an order to the lower court to certify the record of the case to the Supreme Court for an attempt at review.
As it is a very convenient and efficient method, many states follow such an approach to the idea of justice. In the state of California, the concept of mandatory appeal is only granted in cases pertaining to the death penalty.
In all the other cases, in any ambit, the discretion of dealing with them is in the hands of the state supreme courts.
4. The Cases Dealt by The State Courts
The most crucial year wherein the statistics with reference to cases disposed of by the state courts saw a major boom was the year 2019 where the state courts witnessed around a total filing of 83.2 million new cases under which 20 percent of the cases were civil in nature and the other 20 percent placed emphasis on non-traffic related criminal cases.
On the same lines of comparison, in the aforementioned year, it was seen that a total of 376,762 cases, were filed in federal district courts of which 286,289 turned out to be cases of civil nature and 90,473 of criminal that stood inclusive of traffic-related crimes as well.
On the basis of the aforesaid, it was observed that the state courts processed and brought to closure 99.09% of civil and criminal cases that were filed in the United States in 2019.
Under the same calculation, it was interesting to identify that the approximately 777,646 cases revolved around bankruptcy petitions which were filed in the year 2019 under the United States Bankruptcy Courts.
Hence even if such an amount of cases were subtracted from the aforesaid percentage, the state-court dealt cases still sustains at 98.61% of all 2019 cases filed.