Can you be “Civil” in Court?

There are two main types of trials–and you don’t want to be caught up in either one of them. The first and most notorious is a criminal trial. We’ve all seen a thousand of them on television–Law & Order, SVU, CSI…we’ve grown up in the courtroom. The good news about the court system is that they always get the right guy and usually in under 60 minutes. Actually, much less than 60 minutes if you subtract out the commercials–unless you figure that the detectives are working while you go to the fridge for a snack. In any case, they wrap things up quite neatly for us so we can remain safe.

Jury of your peers?

Jury of your peers?

In the real world, it’s not so simple. We don’t always get the right guy, there are tons of “cold cases” that are never solved, and because everyone’s grown up in the courtroom, we all want Jesus himself to provide us with the evidence when we’re picked for a jury. There have been studies on this calling it the CSI syndrome–courts worry that juries have been so tampered with and ruined by cable TV that it would take a miracle to get a real objective and impartial juror in there.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 6.01.06 AMIn criminal cases, you are owed a “jury of your peers.” That doesn’t mean your twelve best friends get to sit on the jury. It means that you get twelve impartial citizens. This is not the easiest thing to find. Citizens who cannot be impartial are supposed to excuse themselves from juries, and tell the judge why they cannot be impartial.

With any luck, the proper amount of evidence will be present, it will have been handled correctly, and the right guy will take the fall.

Then, it’s up to the judicial system to impose a sentence. In some state and federal crimes, there are mandatory sentences. Some states have maximum and minimum sentences.

What’s that, you say? You didn’t think the trial was fair? You think it was a really awful case? You can appeal it. It then goes to appellate court.  If it goes your way, fine. If not, and good reason exists, it can get sent up the chain until it gets to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States decides which cases it will hear, and on what merit. If your case is heard and decided, it may overrule another earlier case or become a precedent.

Scavenger hunt: 

1. What is the process of a criminal trial?

2. What is a precedent?

3. How is the “CSI Effect” making it more difficult to get a fair trial? Do you think YOU would be affected by the CSI effect?

4. Give some examples of some cases in US history with terrible outcomes–which do you think has been the most horrific, and has it been corrected by the court system and overturned to date?


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3 thoughts on “Can you be “Civil” in Court?

  1. It is interesting to see how much work has to be put into getting a jury for a simple court case and the jury by being your “peers” is pretty much just random people they pulled together that didn’t have any excuse for not being there and most of the people in the jury don’t even want to be there.

  2. I was really engaged in today’s lesson. Looking over these crazy cases was really helpful when it came time to know what a supreme court was and what kinds of cases it takes. The one case that reeled me in was the “Dred Scott vs. Sanford case.” Slaves not only worked for people but they were treated like pets; if not worse. They did not have the right to go to court because they were property, To the judge it was like having a chair in court. I would explode in fury if cases today were rejected because of race, gender, career, or anything in that general area.

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