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The Judicial Branch. Why Lady Justice?. Symbolism:  Blindfold- Justice is meted out objectively.  Scales- measure the strengths of a case.  Double edged sword- each side represents Reason and Justice. The Judicial Branch.

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why lady justice
Why Lady Justice?


Blindfold- Justice is meted out objectively.

Scales- measure the strengths of a case.

Double edged sword- each side represents Reason and Justice.

the judicial branch1
The Judicial Branch
  • Interpret the laws created by Congress or the actions of the President.
  • Administer justice and punish offenders.
  • Act as an arbitrator in disputes.
the judicial branch2
The Judicial Branch
  • Two different types of cases:
    • Criminal
    • Civil
  • Three different levels:
    • Local
    • State
    • Federal
criminal cases
Criminal Cases
  • A District Attorney (state) or US Attorney (federal) brings criminal charges before the courts because a violation of criminal law is considered to be a offense against the community.
  • Summary, misdemeanor, and felony offenses are prosecuted.
  • “Prosecutors” work on behalf of the “PEOPLE”
criminal cases1
Criminal Cases
  • Summary offenses- usually tried without a jury and are considered to be petty offenses.
      • Violation of traffic laws
      • Jaywalking
      • Dog licenses
criminal cases2
Criminal Cases
  • Misdemeanor offenses- a crime that is not a felony and is punishable by a fine and up to one year in jail
    • First offense of a crime may be a misdemeanor and subsequent offenses may be felonies.
      • DUI
      • Drug possession
      • Disorderly conduct
criminal cases3
Criminal Cases
  • Felony offenses- crimes that are punishable by at least one year in prison. Offenders can lose their right to vote or hold public offices and may have to register with local police upon release from prison.
    • Ranked: 1st degree, 2nd degree, and 3rd degree. 1st degree being most severe.
criminal cases4
Criminal Cases
  • Examples:
      • Arson - ID Theft
      • Assault/ Battery - Insurance Fraud
      • Bribery - Manslaughter
      • Child Abuse - Murder
      • Domestic Violence - Perjury
      • Drug Offences - Rape
      • Embezzlement - RICO Violations
      • Extortion - Tax Evasion
civil cases
Civil Cases
  • Result from a dispute over the rights and/or duties that individuals and organizations owe to each other.
  • Crime victim initiates and controls the case, not the government.
  • If one is found guilty, they do not go to jail.
  • Attorneys are not provided to the accused.
civil cases1
Civil Cases
  • Unlike a criminal case where the accused must be proved to be guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the accused in a civil case most only be proven to be liable for the charges by “a preponderance of the evidence” (more than 50%).
civil cases2
Civil Cases
  • Examples:

-Accidents and Injuries:

-Food poisoning -Malpractice

-Slip and Fall -Workers’ -Bankruptcy

-Auto Accidents

-Dangerous Products

-Property Rights (Real Estate/ Intellectual)

-Employee Rights

civil cases3
Civil Cases
  • THINK…
criminal civil cases
Criminal & Civil Cases
  • Sometimes the same conduct may violate both criminal and civil laws.
  • A defendant whose actions violate both criminal and civil rules may be prosecuted by the state/fed and civilly sued by the victim for monetary damages.
  • 1995- Prosecuted for murder and found “not guilty”.
  • 1997- Sued civilly for “wrongful death” by the victims’ families and was found “liable”.
criminal or civil
Criminal or Civil?

1. You are eating at the local McDonalds and get food poisoning from their French fries because of poor food handling practices?

criminal or civil1
Criminal or Civil?

2. You are at a concert at Post-Gazette Pavilion and are caught for underage drinking?

criminal or civil2
Criminal or Civil?

3. You are walking through the food court at South Hills Village and slip on a mopped floor that was not clearly marked and you hurt your back?

criminal or civil3
Criminal or Civil?

4. You are in the process of breaking your ex-boyfriend/ girlfriend’s car windows and their dog bites you?

  • Plaintiff: person who files suit
  • Defendant: person charged with crime or against whom a civil complaint is filed
  • Jurisdiction- the official power to try and decide a case.
    • Federal – only Fed law issues are at stake, constitutional questions
    • State – only state law questions are at stake
    • Concurrent – both fed and state issues
levels of courts judges
Levels of Courts / Judges
  • Local – District Magistrates are elected
  • State – Judges are elected in PA
  • Federal – Judges are appointed by the President, then confirmed by the US Senate


local courts
Local Courts
  • Deal with State and Local Laws, Zoning Ordinances.
  • County or Municipal level.
  • Often overseen by District Justices/ Magistrates or Court “Masters”.
  • District Justices/ Magistrates need not be lawyers
state court
State Court
  • Deal with Pennsylvania laws and statutes.
  • Generally, elected officials.
  • Pennsylvania has a mandatory retirement age for judges- 70 yr old.
state courts
State Courts


-Cases involving the state constitution

-State criminal offenses

-Tort and personal injury law

-Contract law



-Sale of goods

-Election issues

-Traffic regulation

federal courts
Federal Courts
  • Two types of Federal Courts:
    • Those established by Article III of the US Constitution.
    • Those established by acts of Congress or Article I of the US Constitution.
the u s court system
    • Hear appeals from U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal and State Supreme Courts regarding federal matters
    • (discretionary appeal)
  • U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals
    • 12 regional U.S. Circuit Courts
    • 1 Federal Circuit
    • Hear appeals, typically as a 3-judge panel, of U.S. District Court cases
    • (automatic appeal)
  • U.S. District Courts
    • 94 federal districts
    • act as trial courts on matters of federal law
federal courts1
Federal Courts
  • Special Courts established by Congress:
    • Judges are appointed by the President, approved the Senate, & usually serve for 15 years.
      • Magistrate courts
      • Bankruptcy courts
      • US Court of Military Appeals
      • US Tax Court
      • US Court of Veterans’ Appeals
federal courts2
Federal Courts


- Civil cases involving citizens of different states or an amount in dispute over $75 K

- Suits between states

- Cases involving ambassadors and other high profile public officials

- Federal Crimes

- Violations of Constitutional Rights

- Bankruptcy


1. You are late to meet your friends at the movies and are pulled over going 84 mph on I-79

Magistrate, State or Federal Court?


2. Your rich Uncle Montgomery Brewster dies and leaves you his speed boat in Florida which you use to conduct robberies in the Caribbean

Magistrate, State or Federal Court?


3. You threaten to kill the President because you cannot afford college

Magistrate, State or Federal Court?


4. Money is tight and you and your family of nine make money by selling very small amounts of illegal drugs out of the back of the restaurant that you own and operate on Route 19. The North Strabane police bust you

Magistrate, State or Federal Court?


5. After graduating from college you begin to work as a trader on Wall Street and use inside information to short sell stock and make yourself a lot of money

Magistrate, State or Federal Court?

the supreme court
The Supreme Court
  • 9 judges, known as justices, and presided over by the Chief Justice.
  • Parties that are not satisfied with the decision of a US Circuit Court of Appeal, US District Court, or state supreme court can petition to have their case heard.
  • Hears 100 of 8,000 cases it is asked to hear each year.
  • Has original jurisdiction in cases involving ambassadors.

The Constitution of the United States