American courts are established at several different levels: There are federal and state courts; the latter typically include county and municipal courts. The courts try similar cases but have unique responsibilities. Federal courts is the venue for an international conspiracy charge; municipal courts handle traffic violations. But all courts may cover a murder, felony theft or kidnapping case, depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction. The Constitution serves as the foundation for all legal activity. Whether in federal or state court, the accused have constitutional rights and protections.
Due process is the routine that police, prosecutors and the accused must adhere to for pursuing court action. Due process guarantees both federal and state defendants the right to a trial and a jury. Defendants must be informed of their rights when arrested and allowed full and unfettered access to a lawyer. Due process also dictates how federal and state law enforcement authorities gather evidence, interview witnesses and make arrests.
Federal and state courts operate in much the same manner. Defendants in criminal cases and their attorneys face prosecutors in open court before a sitting judge. Juries are empaneled according to constitutional directives guaranteeing impartiality and an objective view of the evidence.
Witnesses are sworn in and questioned by both the prosecution and the defense. Both the federal and state courts have rules protecting witnesses from possible retribution for offering testimony. Federal and state courts will also allow jury deliberations and the reading of the verdict in open court.
Sentencing and Appeal
Although federal and state courts may have different sentencing guidelines for specific crimes, the defendant in both courts will hear the sentence and be allowed to address the court. Federal and state courts also have an appeals process for convicted defendants. Issues with due process, witness testimony or court proceedings can lead to an appeal. Federal and state courts both must adhere to the rulings of appeal courts when the decision is handed down.