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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Essay on Legal System

Stare Decisis or Judicial precedent refers to a principle which literally means “let the decision stand.”  Under the principle of stare decisis judges are to a certain extent obligated to follow the precedent.  If a judge has decided a case and declared a particular rule then it becomes his duty when a similar case comes up to decide the case according to the same rule he promulgated in the first case.   If on the other hand, a higher court has decided a similar case with similar issues of law, then the lower courts are bound by the precedent of a case.  Thus, when courts decide a case they should take into consideration whether there is a similar case with similar issues and whether the questions of law have already been decided by a higher court. The purpose behind this principle is to ensure consistency in the decisions of the Supreme Court.  The concept of stare decisis is important because it gives stability to the judicial system of our country.  The people will know what rule is applicable if ever there is a similar case. 
            However, the principle is not absolute.  The Supreme Court as the highest federal court has, in many instances, found it necessary to overturn cases. 
In the case of Wilson v. Layne, the Supreme Court in determining whether the police officers may invoke their qualified immunity to escape their liability for damages referred to the doctrine enunciated in Anderson v. Creighton (483 US 735).  In the Anderson case, the Supreme Court said that a government official performing discretionary function may be entitled to qualified immunity provided the conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”  It added that it depends on the “objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were `clearly established' at the time it was taken." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U. S. 635, 639 (1987).  Following the principles enunciated in the Anderson case, the Supreme Court in this case ruled that the right of the petitioners was not clearly established.  As such, the police officers may invoke qualified immunity.

2.  A trial is different from an appeal.  The trial is the first instance where a court of competent jurisdiction learns about the case.  This is the initial stage of the dispute where the court studies the facts of the case, the issues presented by the parties and the pieces of evidence.  It is also the stage where the court is informed of the arguments of the opposing parties.  Since the trial is considered as the beginning of an appeal, it plays an important role in the judicial process. (May L. Cain, 2007, p.1)  Because everything that happens during the trial stage is transcribed including the objections of the opposing parties, the lawyers of both parties must pay close attention to the details of the case as everything that is not objected to during the trial can, as a rule, no longer be raised during the appeal.  Thus, lawyers must know when to object during the trial since these objections can later on be the subject of an appeal by the losing party.  
            An appeal is different from a trial.  A losing party during the trial stage or even the winning party if he is not satisfied with the decision during the trial stage may file an appeal with the appellate court.  An appeal is the second chance of the losing party or the winning party to be heard and convince the court that he is entitled to the relief prayed for.  It must however be emphasized that no person has the right to an appeal.  An appeal will be taken due course by the courts only when it is filed in accordance with the rules of court in filing an appeal and it is filed on time.  It is different from the trial stage since at this stage there is no longer any presentation of evidence.  As a rule, only the evidence that has been raised during the trial stage may be presented during the appeal. 
            The appeal is important in the judicial process because it gives the parties who feel that the decision was not handed down in accordance with the law or who feel that the judge committed an abuse of discretion in deciding a case, a second opportunity to be heard.  It gives also the appellate court an opportunity to review the case decided by a lower court and determine if the case was decided in accordance with law or if a grave abuse of discretion was committed. 

3.         As a result of the federal system of government, where both the federal and state governments have powers and have their own system of laws, we also have two different court systems which interpret and apply the laws.  These court systems have their own jurisdiction in hearing and deciding cases.  This makes the United States’ judicial system very unique because it is made up of two distinct and independent court systems which are the federal court system and the state court system.  At the top of this court structure is the United States Supreme Court which is considered as the final arbiter of all legal controversies. The US Supreme Court plays a very crucial role in every democratic society.  It is considered as the last place of refuge for every American citizen and non-citizens as well.
            One disadvantage is that litigants may be confused in determining the jurisdiction for filing their complaints.  There are cases which are exclusively cognizable by state courts and there are cases which are exclusively cognizable by federal courts.  Filing the case in the wrong court may result in its dismissal.  Thus the litigants must know where to file their case
            On the other hand, the beauty of the complex judicial system is that there are also cases which are cognizable by either the state courts or the federal courts.  In these situations where either the state or federal court has jurisdiction over the case the litigants are given the option to choose which court, the federal court and state court, they intend to file their case. 

4.         The Criminal Procedure recognizes that there are always three sides in every legal controversy.  The first side pertains to the truth according to the injured party where he attempts to prove that he speaks only the truth.   The second side is the truth according to the accused where he attempts to establish his innocence.  The third will be the absolute truth which is theoretically the same as that of the findings of the court after both sides have been heard. 
            The Adversarial System is the method used in the United States to arrive at the real truth.  The adversarial system offers the greater opportunity for the litigants to establish their own case without undue interference by any other party.  If the prosecution wins that is because they were able to rebut the constitutional presumption of innocence and that they were able to adduce proof that the accused is indeed guilty of the crime charged.  On the other hand, if the case against the defendant is dismissed then that is because either the accused is innocent of the crime charged or that the prosecution’s evidence was weak and that they were not able to prove rebut the constitutional presumption of innocence.  Either way, the determination of truth is mainly in the hands of the disputing parties. 
            In the adversarial system, the theory is that no party has the upper hand.  This means that though the injured party has the entire machinery of the state on his hand to help him in the prosecution of the accused, the accused however has the constitutional presumption of innocence.  In the beginning, he does not really have to do anything because of this presumption since the burden of proof is upon the prosecution.  It is only when in the course of the trial, the prosecution has successfully overcome this constitutional presumption that the burden of proof shifts to the defendant.  When this happens he must adduce evidence to prove his claim so that the burden of proof will once against shift to the prosecution.   
            The disadvantage however is that in adversarial system, the adversarial system has been degraded because the truth is no longer the object of search in every case.  Instead, winning is the sole purpose of the trial.  The victor nowadays is not the person who is telling the truth before the court rather the victor is the one who can manipulate the facts and distort the truth better than the other.  The result is that most criminals end in the street freed from the charges filed against them.  The innocent or the ones who do not have the money to pay for expensive lawyers are the ones staying behind bars. 
            Another disadvantage is that the parties have too much control over the proceedings in an adversarial system.  They control the evidence they need to present and the witnesses to testify during trial.  In the past this has been abused by the litigants to the point that they are the ones who now control the length of the proceedings.  What happens is that the lawyers of litigants after realizing that they have no case at all or their client is indeed guilty of the crime charge may decide “to delay and prolong the criminal proceedings by disputing every point rather than on the real issues.” (Martin 2)  For a destitute litigant who does not have enough resources to compete with the wealthy opponent, he definitely will eventually give up.  He will lose interest in the case.


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