Claim Your Jurisdiction Game: One-Class Period
The concept for the game was originally created by New Mexico Law-Related Education, a program of the New Mexico Bar Foundation, and is used with their permission. It was updated in 2012 by staff at the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). For more information, contact AOC Court Services, 1206 Quince Street SE, PO Box 41170, Olympia, Washington 98504-1170. For an electronic copy of this lesson, or to view other lesson plans, visit Educational Resources on the Washington Courts Web site at: www.courts.wa.gov/education/
One class period (approximately 50 minutes)
Docu-Camera Slide 1 - Diagram of State and Federal Courts.
Today, Indian tribes are greatly controlled by the U.S. government, but they have remained "a separate people, with the power of regulating their internal and social relations." According to federal law, the tribes keep all aspects of independence that have not been terminated by Congress and that are not "inconsistent with their status as a dependent tribe." A tribe has the power to determine tribal membership, to regulate domestic relations among its members and to write rules for the inheritance of property. In addition, a tribe has the authority to enforce its criminal laws against its own members.
The Claim Your Jurisdiction Game does not include the tribal courts, but this would make an interesting extension activity for students to research.
Explain that the four levels of state courts include the Washington Supreme Court, the Washington State Courts of Appeals, superior courts, and the district courts and municipal courts.
What is the difference between a trial and an appellate court? Point out that trial courts hear testimony, consider the evidence, and decide the facts of the case. A trial court may sit with or without a jury. A trial in which just the judge hears the case without a jury is called a bench trial. Once a trial court has decided the case, the losing party may appeal the case to an appellate court.
Explain the derivation of the word "jurisdiction" is from Latin, "to say the law." When a court has jurisdiction of a case, that court has the power to hear that case. Original jurisdiction is the authority to consider and decide cases when the case is first brought to court, as distinguished from appellate jurisdiction, which is the authority to review a lower court’s decision.
Involve the students in the discussion as much as possible, by soliciting examples of cases they know or examples to which students can relate. Take about 15 minutes in total to describe the judicial system.
Federal Court System:
The federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Article III, section 2 of the Constitution empowers the federal courts to hear only cases involving certain subject matters, certain persons, or occur in specific places such as military bases, Indian reservations, or federal property. This is called "subject matter jurisdiction" and "jurisdiction over the parties." Congress also has the authority to set limits on the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
Cases involving the following subjects may be heard by federal courts:
Cases involving the following parties may be heard by the federal courts:
(There are a few other types of jurisdiction over parties, but these are the most common).
Cases occurring in certain locations are heard in federal court:
Sometimes, state courts can hear cases that can also be heard in federal courts. This is called concurrent jurisdiction. State courts share jurisdiction of most of the above types of cases with the federal courts, except in certain areas where the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction, such as a case involving an ambassador, patents and copyrights, or violations of certain federal laws.
So, for example, prisoners may sue state prison administrators for violation of their constitutional rights in either federal or state courts, because state as well as federal courts have the duty to apply the U.S. Constitution.
The federal court system consists of the United States Supreme Court at the top; the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal; and the 94 U.S. District Courts. (There are also some specialized federal courts that are not included here.)
The U.S. district courts are the federal trial courts. Washington State has two federal district courts. One district court is for eastern Washington, with the main court office located in Spokane and court offices in Yakima and Richland. The second district court is for western Washington, with the main court office located in Seattle and another court office in Tacoma. The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco decides appeals from both United States District Courts in Washington, as well as from District Courts from many other western states and territories.
Generally, federal cases begin in the trial court, the U.S. District Court. Plaintiffs file their federal civil cases or diversity jurisdiction cases, and federal prosecutors file their federal criminal cases in U.S. District Court. Parties to cases that are dissatisfied with the outcome in U.S. District Court may appeal their cases to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court at the top of the court structure may be asked to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals, through a petition for certiorari or in limited cases, by an appeal.
The United States Supreme Court receives about 8,000 petitions for certiorari each year. The loser in the case at a lower court petitions that the Supreme Court review the case, but the Court is not required to do so. The Supreme Court selects those cases that are very important to the country and where there may be differences of outcomes in the 13 United States Courts of Appeals. In recent years, the Supreme Court issues opinions in about 75-80 cases.
Article III of the Constitution allows the Supreme Court to hear some cases first (called original jurisdiction), such as with cases of ambassadors and consuls, between two or more states, between the United States and a state, or where a state sues the citizens of another state. However, the lower federal courts can also hear these cases since the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is original but NOT exclusive. The one exception is cases in which states are suing other states. The only court that can hear state-against-state cases is the Supreme Court, but it can hear that case only if it passes a two-part test.
Washington State Court System:
The Washington Supreme Court, located in Olympia, is the state's highest court. The decisions of this court set the law for all the other state courts in Washington.
Generally, cases are appealed from superior court to the Washington Court of Appeals in the appropriate division, and then to the Washington Supreme Court. Sometimes though, a case has such broad public interest and requires a prompt and final decision by the Washington Supreme Court that it will go directly from Superior Court to the Washington Supreme Court.
Appeals where the death penalty has been ordered go directly from the superior court to the Supreme Court. Appeal directly from superior court to the Washington Supreme Court is also permitted when the case involves a state official, when a trial court has ruled a statute or ordinance is unconstitutional, and when conflicting laws are involved.
The Court of Appeals hears most cases appealed from Superior court. Each case is decided only after a transcript (written record of everything that was said in the trial proceedings in superior court – or a video recording) is reviewed and oral and written arguments, called briefs, have been considered. No witnesses testify in appeals cases.
The Court of Appeals is divided into three divisions and each division serves a geographic area of the state.
Superior courts or courts of general jurisdiction are found in each of Washington's 39 counties. These trial courts have the authority to hear all types of civil and criminal cases and to act as appeals courts for cases from district and municipal courts. They are the only state courts that can hold trials for civil cases involving over $75,000; title or possession of land (real property); legality of a tax, assessment, or toll; probate and domestic relations matters; felonies; and appeals from district and municipal courts. Juvenile matters are heard by a division of the Superior courts. Because there is no limit on the civil and criminal cases they may handle, they are called general jurisdiction courts.
Courts of limited jurisdiction include district courts (small claims is a division of the district court) and municipal courts; these courts can only hear certain types of cases. However, courts of limited jurisdiction hear seven out of every eight legal cases (excluding parking infractions) filed in state court. This is mainly because traffic violations and misdemeanor cases are heard in these courts.
District courts hear misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and infractions from the county and municipal courts hear misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and infractions occurring in the cities. Examples are driving under the influence (DUI), hit-and-run, and driving with a suspended license. Persons convicted in limited jurisdiction courts may be sentenced up to $5,000 in fines, a year in jail, or both. Courts of limited jurisdiction may also hold preliminary hearings for felony cases.
District courts and municipal courts also have jurisdiction over civil traffic infractions, such as speeding, inattentive driving, texting/calling while driving. The maximum penalty for traffic infractions is a monetary fine; no jail penalty may be imposed. District and municipal courts may also issue domestic violence and anti-harassment protection orders. They may also hear change-of-name petitions and certain lien foreclosures.
Districts courts may hear civil matters such as personal injury or property damages and contract disputes in amounts up to $75,000. Municipal courts in communities of 400,000 or more may have jurisdiction over additional types of cases if authorized by a municipal ordinance.
The small claims division of the district courts is limited to money claims of $5,000. People represent themselves without attorneys and witnesses generally cannot be compelled to come to court.
Municipal courts hear anti-harassment protection orders if they adopt a court rule allowing them to do so.
Pass out the "Claim" and "Do Not Claim" signs.
Use most of the rest of the class period on this activity.
Conclude the class by asking students to find a court case in the newspaper or Internet and have them identify which court it is in.
CASES AND ANSWERS
Docu-Camera Slide 1
FEDERAL AND STATE COURTS – OVERVIEW FOR WASHINGTON
Federal and State Courts – Overview for Washington
Federal Court System
Washington Court System
Federal and State Courts – Vocabulary List
Appellate court—A court that has jurisdiction or the power to hear cases that have been appealed from a lower court. An appellate court reviews whether the correct law was applied in a case.
Bench trial—A trial in which there is no jury; rather, the judge hears the evidence and decides the facts of the case.
Brief—A written statement submitted by an attorney to the court that presents the law and facts supporting his or her side of the case.
Civil cases—All areas of law that do not involve criminal matters. Examples of civil matters are suits regarding contracts between two parties, suits to recover money for personal injuries, and actions in domestic relations (issues relating to families like divorce and child custody).
Criminal cases—A legal action brought by the government (state, federal or local) charging a person with committing a crime.
Jurisdiction—The authority of a court to hear and decide a case. Some courts have "general" jurisdiction, which means they may hear all types of cases; other courts have "limited" jurisdiction, which means they may only hear certain types of cases.
Jury—A specific number of persons (usually 6 or 12) who hear the evidence at a trial and render a verdict.
Transcript—The official record of what was said during a trial or hearing. The transcript is prepared by a court reporter. Some trials are videotaped and the videotape serves as the transcript, unless it is very lengthy.
Trial court—The court that initially hears the evidence in a case, usually through the testimony of witnesses and introduction of documents and other tangible evidence. The trial court decides the facts in the case.
Verdict—From Latin "to speak the truth." The formal decision made by a jury or judge after hearing all the evidence in a trial.
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