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The American Court System Demystified

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The supreme rule of the land in the U.S is the constitution which has created a federal governance system. As a result of having federalism, the federal, as well as the state government, have their own courts systems. The federal courts are at the top of the hierarchy and they are divided into two: the districts and circuits (Schmalleger, 2016).

They mainly deal with civil cases rather than criminal ones. The highest level court is the U.S Supreme court which contains nine judges. The court of appeal is an intermediate federal appellate court which hears appeals from the lower courts. U.S District courts are general trial courts which hears appeals from tribunals.

The state courts are of the lower tier with limited jurisdiction (Alexander, 2011). The hierarchy of State courts includes trial courts whose jurisdiction is limited, general jurisdiction courts e.g circuit courts and district courts, and article 1 courts for handling special matters e.g appeals for veterans, tax, federal claims, etc.

Accordingly, terms of imprisonment are determined and identified to be ranging from ten years. Contrariwise, structured sentencing involves presumptive schemes of sentencing which are commission created as well as determinate in addition to administration guidelines of advisory sentencing.

The structured sentencing requires that the offender convicted be sentenced to a term that is fixed and which is open to reduction through the gain period, unlike indeterminate sentencing where the term is not definite. There are various sentencing encompassed by the indeterminate sentencing which includes gain time, concurrent as well as consecutive sentencing.

Detailed variations in the guilt intensity are considered in indeterminate sentencing. The amount of time served is determined by the behavior of the convicted offender while in prison which offers the judges a chance of producing a wide range of practices of sentencing. Sentencing practices in the structured model include shock incarceration, probation, home confinement, parole, etc.

There is a great deal of discretion enjoyed by judges in the determination of sentences as there are several options from which they can choose. These options include fines, community service, probation, and suspended sentences (United States Sentencing Commission, 2008). Fines are a form of punishment that involves paying off a certain amount of money to the government.

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An example where a fine may apply is when an artist or any individual sprays a public bench with graffiti. The painter may be charged with vandalism where a fine is imposed. Community service sentences for minor offenders. The convicted offender is ordered to do certain work for the community in exchange for partial or even full incarceration. The type of work to be done is specified by the court.

A person found guilty of driving under influence may be ordered to go to schools in the neighborhood to give a speech on dangers related to the consumption of alcohol. Probation is a type of sentence given by judges to low-risk and first-time offenders. The person convicted is allowed back into the community but his freedom is curtailed by conditions that restrict their behaviors (United States Sentencing Commission, 2008).

A revocation of the probation may occur if these conditions are violated. The suspended sentence is another option for the judges. A judge may decide on a sentence but may end up not carrying it out. This applies to first-time offenders with less serious crimes.

There may be a condition to be fulfilled by the offender for the judge to maintain the suspension of the sentence but at times, there may be no conditions. If the conditions given are violated, the judge may go on to carry out the prison sentence.

The indeterminate model of sentencing involves the imprisonment of an offender to an unspecific or unknown period. The imprisonment length is not known, however, a determination of the period may be done amid the course of the degree of guilt determination. The utilization of relative unspecific and general sentences encourages rehabilitation when it comes to indeterminate sentencing.


Alexander, K., & Alexander, M. D. (2011). American public school law. Cengage Learning.
Schmalleger, F. (2016). Criminal justice: A brief introduction. (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
United States Sentencing Commission. (2008). Federal sentencing guideline manual (Vol. 3). West Group.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Uriel Kushiel

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