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California’s Judiciary. POSC 140 Braunwarth. Organization of the Courts. Two levels: Trial and Appellate courts What do we call trial courts? Superior Courts now includes municipal courts What are the Appellate courts? District Courts of Appeals and The California Supreme Court.

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California s judiciary l.jpg

California’s Judiciary

POSC 140


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Organization of the Courts

  • Two levels: Trial and Appellate courts

  • What do we call trial courts?

  • Superior Courts

    • now includes municipal courts

  • What are the Appellate courts?

  • District Courts of Appeals and

  • The California Supreme Court

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Judging the Judges

  • States began electing judges in the early 1800s.

  • Suffered under British judges

  • Distrusted Political Elite

  • Most states have some type of election, many of them partisan

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Judging the Judges

  • Appellate justices face voters every 12 years in non-partisan elections

  • Superior court judges are elected to 6-year terms

  • Why not in partisan elections?

  • Democrat and Republican judges tend to differ in views on punishment

  • Why not “politicize” the elections?

  • Should we elect judges at all?

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County District Attorney

  • Represents the people of California

  • Brings charges against suspects

  • Investigates and Prosecutes all Felonies

  • Prosecutes all Misdemeanors (except in SD)

  • Oversees 310 Deputy DAs (Prosecutors)

  • Assisted by 81 DA Investigators (DAIs)

  • Most cases are plea-bargained; good idea?

  • Only reasonable way to prosecute case load

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District Attorney

  • Elected Office

  • Little Oversight

  • Supposed to Seek Truth and Justice, but

  • Huge pressure for convictions, especially for high-profile cases (i.e. cop killers)

  • Potential Problem?

  • Are occasional abuses;

  • DDA Burt prosecuting Officer Hartless’ killers

  • “Mad Dog” Charles Kirk in S.F.

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District Attorney

  • SD has highest prosecution rate in CA 91%

  • Many Programs for protecting the community

  • Child Abduction, Elder Abuse, Hate Crimes, Victim Assistance, Consumer Fraud, High Tech Crime, Identity Theft, Gangs, Bad Checks, Online Crime, Stalking

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Issues: Crime Control

  • California is 6th most violent state

  • Behind Florida, South Carolina, Maryland, Louisiana, and Illinois

  • Why so high here?

  • Urbanization: many young males, poverty, residential segregation, gangs

  • Despite “build more prisons” rhetoric,

  • Crime largely dependent on these economic and demographic trends

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Issues: Crime Control

  • What has been our response to rising crime rates?

  • Get tough on crime!

  • Determinative Sentencing:

  • 1976: Uniform Sentencing Acts

  • 1996: Three Strikes Law

  • Death Penalty

  • All limit the discretion of judges

  • Is little talk about crime-control policy other than societal retribution

  • Is this good or bad?

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Issues: Death Penalty

  • Does the Death Penalty deter crime?

  • No, what are some other cons?

  • Expensive (more than life imprisonment)

  • Is it administered fairly (race, class)?

  • Are mistakes made?

  • Jailhouse informants, incompetent counsel, etc.

  • Illinois freed 17 while killing 12

  • Gov. commuted all death sentences

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Death Penalty

  • U.S. is only Western democracy and one of the few developed nations that use the death penalty

  • What are the arguments for the death penalty?

  • It’s popular, 78% Californians want it

  • Our individualistic culture emphasizes retribution and punishment

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Issues: Juvenile Crime

  • More young people are getting involved in more serious crimes

  • Prop 21: Prosecutor, not judge decides whether to try youth as adults

  • Is this a good idea?

  • Can youths be rehabilitated?

  • Once do hard time, little hope for reconciliation with society

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Issues: Incarceration

  • Expensive: must be secure, constant supervision, medical services, food, rehabilitation, etc.

  • How can we defer prison expenses?

  • Privatization of Prisons: good idea?

  • Mixed reviews, labor costs are high

  • Put the inmates to work?

  • Prison-Industrial Complex

  • What are the pros and cons?

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Criminal Justice

  • The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world

  • Most inmates are incarcerated for non-violent crimes

  • Why do we incarcerate?

  • Alternatives?

  • Why not make incarceration has hard as possible (no TVs, correspondence courses, exercise equipment, etc.)?

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Criminal Justice

  • If lock up more criminals for longer sentences, people feel safer

  • In our haste to lock up are we overlooking constitutional protections?

  • Racial profiling, Illegal searches, etc.

  • Prison rates doubled in 1990s: Are we more lawless or less tolerant?

  • These are all issues the judiciary must decide