State and Federal Court System and Stages of the Criminal Trial

In the United States there are two types of
court: 1) The State Court and 2) The Federal Court

1.- The State Court System is made up of:

a) Twosets of trial court

1.- Trial Court of Limited Jurisdiction (Probate, family, traffic, juvenile,

2.- Trial court of General Jurisdiction: These
courts are called high courts, circuit courts or superior courts

The trial courts is where the cases start,
this court conduct arraignments, takes pleas, conduct trials, etc. Circuit
court or higher court offer the chance of a new trial rather than review the
trial conducted by a lower court. This is called trial de novo.

b) State Appellate Court: these courts are
called, courts of last resort, only 39 states have state appellate courts.  The appellate court only reviews a case on the
record. These courts address only alleged procedural mistakes and errors of law
made by the trial court.

c) State Supreme Court: These courts take alleged
mistakes of law and not fact. This court reviews errors of the lower courts.

2. The Federal Court is competent over cases
arising under the constitution, federal law and treaties. Also in cases where
the parties are the states, or when one of the parties is the state, the
federal court has also jurisdiction over those cases.

U.S. District
Court: There are 94 U.S. district courts in the United States. Most federal
cases begin in this court. These courts hear criminal and civil cases. District
court judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate.

U.S. Court of
Appeals: There are 13 circuit court of appeals in the United States. These
courts review mistakes of law rather than facts of the case. These courts
usually sit in panels of three judges.

U.S. Supreme
Court: This is made up of 9 judges known as justices. The Supreme Court is
located in Washington DC. Parties who are not satisfied with the decision of
the U.S. Court of Appeals or State Supreme Court can petition the U.S. Supreme
Court to hear their cases. This is a legal procedure known as a petition for a writ
of certiorari.
The court decides whether to accept such cases. The Supreme
Court decision becomes a model for similar future cases.

Stages of Criminal Trials:

The criminal trial consists of eight stages:

1. Trial Initiation

2. Jury Selection

3. Opening Statements

4. Presentation of evidence

5. Closing Arguments

6. Judge’s charge to the jury

7. Jury Deliberations Verdict

1. Trial Initiation:  The sixth amendment of the United States
guarantees the defendant the right of a speedy and public trial. The trial has
to begin within a specific period of time.

2. Jury Selection:
The selection of jury is from a pool of qualified citizens. The jury selection
is called “voir dire” this procedure involves questioning potential jurors
to determine their impartiality in the case. Prosecutors and defense attorneys
can challenge members of the jury through:
a) Challenges to the array,  b)
Challenges for cause, and c) Peremptory challenges.

a) Challenges to the
: These are when the jury is not representative of the community or is
biased in one significant way.

b) Challenges for
: These are when an individual juror cannot be fair or impartial.

c) Peremptory
: These allow the prosecutor or defense attorney to remove
potential jurors without a valid reason.

3. Opening Statements: During this stage,
the prosecutor and the defense attorney state the facts, the charges against
the defendant and communicate the jury which proofs will be offered during the

4. Presentation ofEvidence: In this stage, the evidence to prove the defense is guilty is
presented. There are three types of evidence:

a) Direct Evidence:
This consists of photographs, video tapes and witness testimonies.

b) Circumstantial Evidence: This kind of
evidence requires the judge or jury to draw conclusions.

c) Real Evidence: This consists of
physical evidence such as tire tracks, fingerprints, DNA and so on.

5. Closing Arguments:  This is the summary of the case and its
objective is persuading the jury to draw a conclusion favorable to the

6. The Judges charge
the jury
: The charge is when the judge reminds the jurors the obligation to
be objective with the evidence presented. Many judges present a summary of the
evidence offered and may make legal explanations regarding the case. The judge
will instruct the jury that they must find the defendant guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt.

7. Jury Deliberation and the verdict: Deliberations can last minutes, hours, days or weeks depending on the complexity of the case. The verdict is the decision of the
jury which in some courts is required to be unanimous.




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