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Judicial Law: Understanding How the Judicial System Works

judicial law

November 12 2019 - The Supreme Court will only hear about 100-150 cases out of the more than 7,000 requests it receives each year. This is one of the details about the American justice system that people don't know.

When it comes to understanding judicial law, it helps to understand the basic process. This will help you understand what to expect and what court your case will be heard in.

Keep reading to learn about the American judicial process.

Judicial Law Process

There are two separate avenues that cases go through, either civil or criminal court. Criminal cases are between an individual and the state, while civil cases are between two individuals.

Criminal Cases

The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments provide protections when accused of a crime. Here are some of the rights that those facing criminal charges have.

  • Legal representation
  • Avoid self-incrimination
  • Speedy trial by an impartial jury
  • No deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law
  • Protection from double jeopardy
  • Cross-examine witnesses and call their own witnesses
  • Protection from excessive fines, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment.

Arrest and Indictment

Depending on the crime, a defendant will face proceedings in either state or federal court. Law enforcement will make an arrest. If a grand jury approves the indictment, then a judge will formally charge the defendant with a crime.


The defendant can build their defense while the prosecutor creates their argument. Both parties present their arguments and evidence at trial. A jury then determines guilt.

Civil Cases

If you believe that another individual wronged you, then you can file a lawsuit in the civil court system. You can seek a remedy through requesting a cease and desist, awarding monetary damages, or some other form of compensation.


Similar to a criminal case, civil claims also go through a trial process where both parties present their arguments and evidence. The parties can waive their right to a jury trial and have their case determined by a judge.

Appellate Court

Both the state and federal court systems have an appeals court. You file an appeal to have the appellate court review the case if you're unhappy with the lower court's determination.

Generally, the appellate court has the final say. They'll only turn over the lower court's decision if it was "clearly erroneous" on the basis of fact or law.

Supreme Court

If you lose at the federal court of appeals or the highest level of a state court, then you can petition the Supreme Court to hear your case. There is no guarantee that it will hear your case.

You have a better chance of the Supreme Court reviewing your case if it involves new or changing federal principals, if two lower courts have interpreted the law differently, or if it involves an international legal issue brought to light by a group like the FDD or Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

There are also some very specific circumstances when the Supreme Court is required to hear the case.

Understand the US Judicial System

By understanding the judicial law process, you can better protect yourself. You'll understand what court will hear your case and how to proceed if you're unhappy with the outcome.

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