The American Criminal Court System

This paper will cover the legal foundations of the American Criminal Court System. This paper what a court is and what is its purpose in the United States of America. This paper will also cover what a dual court system is. This paper will cover which of the three main functions of the courts; protecting people’s rights, resolving disputes, or upholding the law, is most important to the American people.

The Court and its Purpose The courts serve as a legal representation for of society, enforcing, and upholding the law against offenders in America. According to the United States Justice Department a court is “an agency or unit of the judicial branch of government, authorized or established by statute or constitution, and consisting of one or more judicial officers, which has the authority to decide upon cases, controversies in law, and disputed matters of fact brought before it.” The courts responsible for deciding the fate of lawbreakers in America. Another purpose of the court is to ensure that disputes are presented in a means by which the case may be heard in a neutral setting. Disputes may occur between businesses, government officials, and private parties.

The dual Court System The American Government exercises a dual court system. The American dual court system is composed of federal and state courts and is a system which power is constitutionally separated between the government and the states. What this means is limited restrictions for both the state and federal courts. The government cannot overrule the state court, and the state court cannot overrule the federal government. However, the federal government is afforded limited access into each state’s judicial matters.

Early Legal codes, Common Law, Precedent The emergence of formalized law dates back to the B.C. (before Christ) era. In 1760 B.C., the sixth Babylonian king Hammurabi, (the authority figure of that time) felt the need to compose a universal set of laws for all of the people for which he rules. King Hammurabi compiled the earliest known example of a formal written legal code known today as Hammurabi’s Code. The philosophy behind Hammurabi’s Code is “an eye for an eye.” Hammurabi’s Code consisted of 282 laws and covered the legal rights to property, landowners, slave masters, merchants, builders, and theft. Another example of early development of retributive justice is the Twelve Tables created by Roman authorities of 450 B.C. The Twelve Tables are considered as the first nonspiritual written legal code and mirrors Hammurabi’s element of justice. Both of these early legal codes are important to the development of courts because they led the emergence of formalized.

Common law originates from what is considered custom and from use rather than from written statuses. Common law existed before legal codes, or laws. Back in medieval times, common law was a term that referred to the law “in common” throughout England following the Norman Conquest. During medieval times, judges could not rely on formal statutes to criminalize misconduct. As a result the judges began recording their decisions from cases, leading to the development of the precedent and principles of stare decisis. A precedent is a legal principle where previous decisions were authoritatively considered and incorporated in future cases (Schmalleger, Siegel, & Worrall, 2011, Chapter 1, Legal Foundations). The development of Precedent ensured continuity and predictability among the judges; it created a sense of unity. In law stare decisis is the formal practice of adhering to precedent and is a Latin word meaning “to stand by things decided.”

Today the American criminal justice system consist of three constituents; the police, correctional agencies, and criminal courts. The roles of the courts in criminal justice have evolved because the need for justice evolved. The roles today are more specific and detailed. The function of the criminal courts system is too; determine criminal cases, uphold the law, determine innocence or guilt, ensure fairness, and due process within the justice system as well as supplying a check system on how other justice system agencies implement their power. Perhaps the most important role of court is to uphold the law. The courts in criminal justice today must conduct fair and impartial trials, and protect the rights and freedoms of anyone facing processing by the justice system.

Unfortunately, criminal activity as defined by today’s society unquestionably has existed since the dawn of history. The earliest known examples of formal written legal codes such as Hammurabi’s Code, and the Twelve Tables are perceived as evidence that a need for universal laws and justice has always been. The American Criminal justice system has definitely since evolved through medieval times, giving credit to common law and earlier formally written legal codes. Today Society relies on police to enforce the law, correctional agencies to carry out sentences imposed by the courts, and criminal courts to uphold the law.