The Rule of Law And

The Rule of Law And



INTRODUCTION The purpose of this Unit 6 is to provide the student with an under-standing of the concept of the Rule of Law and the American court system, including 4 types of law- civil, criminal, constitutional, and military.


1. Jurisdiction: Jurisdiction is a Court’s authority to hear a case. Every case must be filed in a Court. Jurisdiction tells us which Court to file the case. There are 2 types of jurisdiction- original and appellate. Original jurisdiction is a trial court’s authority to hear a case make the first decision in the case. For example, a criminal case is first heard in a trial court. The trial court first determines whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. Appellate jurisdiction is a higher court’s authority to review a lower court’s decision. For example, if the defendant is found guilty at trial, he can ask the Court of Appeals to review the trial court’s decision.

2. Appeal: An appeal is a request for a higher court to review a lower court’s deci-sion. An example of an appeal in your life is asking one parent for something, having that parent say “no,” and then asking the other parent in the hope that the 2nd parent says “yes.” Usually what happens if the 2nd parent says “go ask your mother.”

3. Common Law: Common law is one of the sources of the rules we follow in the US. When a court makes a decision, that decision becomes law. When a court follows a decision from an earlier case, the 2nd court is following the “common law.” The following is an example of common law: The police stop you and begin to ask questions without telling you your rights not to speak and to have an attorney with you during questioning. You challenge the police’s actions. The trial court says that it is following Miranda v. Ari-zona and throws the case out because the police violated your rights. The Miranda case established a rule that becomes the common law. The trial must follow the rule when it hears your case.


The Rule of Law says that everyone is equal under the law, that the law applies to everyone the same. The law should not treat the powerful different from the weak. Re-member US v Nixon, President Nixon did not want to turn over tape recordings. The Supreme Court held that President Nixon was not above the law and directed him to turn over the tapes.


The American Court System can be drawn like a pyramid (activity for Dec. 14th). At the top of the pyramid is the US Supreme Court. In the middle of the pyramid are the US Courts of Appeal. At the bottom of the pyramid are the US District Courts (trial courts). A case starts at the bottom of the pyramid and works its way up. The trial court has original jurisdiction and is the 1st court to decide the legal issue. If one of the parties does not like the trial court’s decision, the party can appeal the case to a Court of Appeals. With the appeal, the party is asking the Court of Appeals to use the court’s appellate jurisdiction and review the lower court’s decision for mistakes. If one of the parties does not like the Court of Appeals decision, the party an ask the US Supreme Court to use its appellate jurisdiction to review the Court of Appeals decision for a mistake. The US Supreme Court is the highest court in the US. It has the final say on all legal matters.

NOTE AND SUMMARY- The US Supreme Court has both original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court hears cases between 2 or more states. If Florida has an issue with Georgia and wants to go to court, Florida files its case in the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction. The District Courts (trial courts) have original jurisdiction.

FLORIDA COURT SYSTEM: TheFlorida Court System follows the US Court System with one exception. Florida has an extra trial court level. Municipal Courts (City Courts) are set up by Florida cities to hear cases when someone breaks a city law. For instance, if Eustis puts up a no parking sign and someone parks in that spot, the case is heard in the Eustis municipal court.


There are four types of law which we will look at- civil, constitutional, criminal, and military.

Civil Law: Civil law is a legal issue in which one person sues another person for money damages. For example, if I run a red light and hit someone’s car and injure them, the injured party sues me in court. The party who is injured and brings the suit is called a plaintiff. The party who is sued and is being asked to pay money is called the defendant.

Constitutional Law: Constitutional law deals with issues involving your rights under the US Constitution. Remember some of the cases we studied that involved rights under the Constitution- Gideon v. Wainwright (right to an attorney); US v. Nixon (Rule of Law); Tinker v. Des Moines (students’ free speech rights); Brown v. Board of Educa-tion (ended racial segregation and overruled Plessey v. Ferguson which allowed racial segregation.

Criminal Law: Criminal law deals with breaking laws. The penalty for being found guilty of breaking a law is jail (small crimes), prison (large crimes), or being fined (having to pay money).

Military Law: Military law deals with violations of military rules. Military rules can be found in the UMCJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice)

CONCLUSION: TheRule of Law tells us that everyone should be treated equally. No one is above the law. The US and federal courts follow a similar pattern. At the bottom of the Court pyramid, are the trial courts. Trial courts have original jurisdiction because they are the courts that get to first decide the case. The Courts of Appeal have appellate juris-diction because they hear challenges to the lower (trial) court’s decision. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction because it hears challenges to the decisions by the Court of Appeals. , and Florida Bill of Rights guarantees that Americans have freedoms and protections set out in the Constitution. These freedoms involve personal rights, protect-tions from the police, and a statement that the federal government is limited to only those powers given to it.