Elements Of Law

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Elements of LawProfessor Margaret M. FlintExecutive Director, John Jay Legal ServicesElisabeth Haub School of Law

Goals Provide context for what you will be learning in law school May be a review for some and new information for others Level the playing field Have some fun and get to know each other

What do we mean when we say law? Black’s Law Dictionary definition1. The regime that orders human activities and relationsthrough systematic application of the force of politicallyorganized society, or through social pressure, back by force,in such a society.2. The aggregate of legislation, judicial precedents, andaccepted legal principles; the body of authoritative groundsof judicial and administrative action; esp. the body of rules,standards, and principles that the courts of a particularjurisdiction apply in deciding controversies brought beforethem.

We will be focusing on definition 2! The three branches of government The structure of the Federal and state legal systems How a bill becomes a law Sources of law How lawyers and courts use the law

The three branches of government

Sources of Law Enacted law Constitutions Statutes Regulations Case law Judicial decisions Interpreting enacted law Common law: law developed by courts when there is nostatute

Structure of Federal Court System

New York District Courts

Federal Courts Trial Level 94 District Courts (4 in New York) Each District also has a Bankruptcy Court Court of International Trade Court of Claims Intermediate Level of Appeal 13 Courts of Appeal (New York is in Second Circuit) United States Supreme Court

Subject Matter Jurisdiction of Federal Courts Federal Question Cases concerning US Constitution, Federal statutes and regulations, disputesbetween states, disputes between the US and foreign countries Diversity (minimum amount in controversy: 75,000) Disputes between citizens of different states May also be litigated in State court Specialized courts International Court of Trade Court of Claims

New York Civil Court Structure

New York Criminal Court Structure

How “law” develops Adjudication of Disputes Interpretation of statutes Common law: judge-made law when no statute applies Much common law has been enacted into statute, especiallycriminal law

How do cases get to court: Civil Plaintiff files a law suit: complaint Must state a claim Court must have jurisdiction: right court Geographic Subject Matter Defendant files an answer or motion to dismiss Case may be disposed of at this stage

Discovery If case is not dismissed, parties generally conduct “discovery” Exchange of relevant information to narrow the issues Depositions (interview under oath) of parties andwitnesses If no disputed facts after discovery, parties may file a motionfor summary judgment If there are disputed facts after discovery, case will go to trial

Settlement Vast majority of cases are settled Cases can settle at any time Settlement encouraged: Why?

Trial May be before a jury or judge only (generallydecision of plaintiff) Jury (or judge) decides facts Judge instructs the jury about the law No right to counsel in civil cases, generally

Appeal Losing party generally may appeal tointermediate appellate court as of right Appeals heard by more than one judge – Why? Appeals are heard on the trial record – no newinformation presented Further appeals may be limited by statute.

How to cases get to court: Criminal A person is charged with a crime (state or Federal) The Government (US Attorney or District Attorney)represents “the People” when prosecuting the case The Defendant has a right be represented in caseswhere the sentence could be more than one year(“right to counsel”).

Settlement - Criminal Many cases get resolved without trial: pleabargain

Appeal – Criminal Defendant has the right to appeal a criminalconviction The government may have the right to appeal adecision to dismiss the case before a trial, butgenerally is not able to appeal a not guiltyverdict – Why not?

How judges decide cases Must decide the issue presented by the case Holding: Judgment relevant facts Dicta: Discussion of the court which is notnecessary to the resolution of the case

Precedent – Stare Decisis Consideration of similar cases in the past Binding precedent: very similar case in samecourt or higher court in same jurisdiction Persuasive authority: cases in different courtor court in a different jurisdiction

Hierarchy of persuasiveness of precedent Binding Higher court in same jurisdiction; very similar facts Court in same jurisdiction; very similar facts; no higher courtdecision on point Persuasive Court in same state, different jurisdiction, very similar facts Highest court in another jurisdiction, very similar facts Intermediate court in another jurisdiction, very similar facts Same level court in another jurisdiction, very similar facts

When will a court overrule a prior decision? May only overrule the decision of a lower court in thesame jurisdiction May overrule its own prior decision only if there is nocontrolling decision from a higher court or legislation Happens very rarely More likely that Court will distinguish facts in casebefore it from facts in controlling case

Appellate court decisions Majority opinion Concurring opinion Dissenting opinion Per curiam opinion

Legislatures may overrule or respond to acourt decision by statute Americans with Disabilities Act Family Health Care Decisions Act

Hierarchy of enacted law: Federal US Constitution Federal statutes and treaties Federal executive orders and administrative regulations State constitutions State statutes State administrative regulations Municipal enactments

Citation Formula for referring to authority (primary sources) Blue Book contains the rules that are generally used in legalscholarship and in law school writing Courts have their own rules for citation – don’t forget this!

Citations – Why? Demonstrate assertions are supported by authority In legal writing, most factual and all legal assertionsrequire citations Supply bibliographic information so that reader canfind the source Attribute borrowed words and ideas: avoid plagiarism

Elements of Law Professor Margaret M. Flint. Executive Director, John Jay Legal Services. Elisabeth Haub School of Law. . Common law: judge-made law when no statute applies Much common law has been enacted into statute, especially criminal law. How do cases get to court: Civil

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