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contrary to the federal Constitution or to federal law the case may be carried over to the federal courts for trial, but when a case is wholly outside of federal authority it must receive its final settlement in a State court.
In the administration of justice in the State it has been found convenient in all the States to have at least three grades of courts :
I. The Justice's Court. This court, the lowest in the series, is held by a justice of the peace and may be called the court of the neighborhood, for in every community it is near at hand to administer justice in small affairs. In it are tried petty misdemeanors and civil cases involving small sums of money. In the trial of trivial offenses and of civil cases involving but a small sum of money the decision of the court is usually final, but when its judgment inflicts a severe penalty or involves a considerable sum of money an appeal may be taken to a higher court. In cities, police courts, sometimes called municipal, sometimes magistrates' courts, are often established for the trial of petty criminal cases.
II. The Circuit or District Court. This is the tribunal next above the justice's court, and it may be called the court of the county, for it is held in every county at the county-seat. It must not be understood, however, that the jurisdiction of the judges of this court is limited to a single county. A circuit (or district) usually includes several counties, and the judges of a circuit go from county to county to hold court. In rural districts this court tries both civil and criminal cases, but in the larger cities there is generally a criminal court of corresponding grade for the trial of the criminal cases. A very large city often has an elaborate system of courts of its own.
These courts of the second grade are the centers of most of the judicial activity of the State. In them are tried the weightier cases of the law. They review the cases appealed from the justice's court and they have original jurisdiction in serious criminal cases and in important civil cases.
It is in these courts, too, that the jury figures most prominently as an agency of justice. Juries are of two kinds, grand and petit. The grand jury is a body of men varying from 12 to 23 in number, chosen by court officials to inquire whether there have been any violations of the law in the community and to determine whether or not these persons under suspicion should come up for trial. When making an inquiry into a criminal charge the grand jury sits in secret and hears only the evidence against the accused. Its function is not to try the accused, but to decide whether on the face of things there is sufficient evidence of guilt to warrant a trial. When a majority of the grand jury are satisfied that the case ought to be tried the indictment is endorsed with the words “a true bill,” and the case goes to the petit jury to be tried. This body (in all the States but one) must consist of twelve men. It sits in open session, hears evidence on both sides of the case. During the progress of the trial questions of law are determined by the court; the jury determines only questions of fact.
After the evidence has all been given and counsel on both sides of the case have been heard, the jury retires from the court-room and is locked into a small room where it remains until it finds a verdict, or until the judge decides that no verdict will be reached. In nearly all the States it is required that all the twelve members shall agree upon the verdict. When no agreement is reached a new trial may be ordered. As a general rule it may be said that the verdict of a jury is decisive.
Juries are chosen from the ordinary citizens in the neighborhood in which the trial is conducted-from farmers, mechanics, merchants—and this is the feature doubtless that makes trial by jury so popular. When a man is tried by men who are neither too far above him nor too far below him to have sympathy with him, he has a good chance for a fair trial. The jury system, like every other human institution, has its defects, but notwithstanding its shortcomings it is one of the greatest safeguards of civil liberty ever invented.
III. The Supreme Court. In this court resides the supreme judicial authority of the State. It generally sits at the State capital, where it holds sessions the greater part of the year. Its jurisdiction is for the most part appellate, although there are a few instances in which it has original jurisdiction. For example, a case involving the official action of a State officer is usually begun in the supreme court. Most of the cases, however, tried in the supreme court come up to it from the courts below. When a decision of
this court conflicts in no way with the federal authority it is final, and is binding upon the people of the State as long as the State constitution remains unchanged, but when the decision conflicts with federal law or with the federal Constitution it may be reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
In several States where the work of the courts is unusually heavy there has been inserted between the court of the second grade and the supreme court an intermediate appellate court. This additional tribunal has been established to relieve the State supreme court of some of its burden. The jurisdiction of this intermediate court is purely appellate, and its decisions are final, except in a few specified cases which may be carried from it up to the higher court.
In many of the States we find in every county a probate or surrogate's court-sometimes called the orphans' court. In States where there is no separate court, the probate business is given to the county court, an institution found in many States. This county court in a few States has functions which are purely judicial and may try misdemeanors and small civil cases. In six States we find chancery courts separate from the law courts. In these chancery courts the equity 1 cases are tried. As a rule, however, equity cases are tried in the regular law courts of the system.
Judges in courts of equity-and in most States the
1 When a civil case is tried before a judge and jury it is a case at law; when tried before a judge only, it is a case at equity.
regular law courts are also courts of equity-have the power to issue the writ of injunction forbidding a person to do, or commanding him to do, a certain thing. If the injunction is disobeyed the person disobeying it is liable to punishment. The injunction is generally used to prevent the commission of wrongs which could not be prevented by the ordinary workings of a lawsuit. Thus, if a railroad company begins to lay its tracks across a man's property without first securing a right of way, a judge in a court of equity, at any time of the day or night, will issue an injunction forbidding the railroad to continue the laying of the tracks. In recent cases courts have forbidden labor leaders and others to induce or coerce workingmen to strike where the strike would cause irreparable injury and damage to the employers. This use of the injunction has met with fierce opposition and is regarded by many as unwarranted and unjust. The power of injunction is exercised by federal as well as by State judges.
In certain cases State judges may issue the writ of mandamus. This writ is issued to an officer, or corporation, requiring the performance of a public duty which the officer or corporation has refused to perform. The purpose of this important writ is to compel the officer to go forward and do that which his position plainly requires him to do. Federal judges also may in certain cases issue the writ of mandamus.
The organization of the federal courts is as follows:
I. The District Courts. The lowest of federal courts is the District Court presided over by a district