Civil Law versus Common Law

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 What Is a Civil Law System?

A “civil system of law” is practiced by civil attorneys in continental Europe and most countries throughout the world. This type of law stemmed from Greek philosophy and the Roman code.

In a civil system of law, civil lawyers and judges get together to determine how to use the codified law to the facts. This makes judges much more influential and tends to “institutionalize” the law.

What Is a Common Law System?

Nevertheless, United States law is heavily influenced by English “common law.” Common law is formed when judges seek out local customs in a particular area. This is done by analyzing prior cases from other courts in the area. From the facts of each case comes the rule of law.
On the other hand, common law allows a jury of ordinary people to decide the outcome of a case. This gives more authority to the people than the educated elite, which is a pillar of our democracy.

Accordingly, civil attorneys in our modern system have a greater responsibility to convince the judge and jury that their version of the law is the actual common law and custom. This leads to a system where lawyers fight over what the law is.

Isn’t a Jury Trial Always Guaranteed?

No, a jury trial is not always guaranteed. The Sixth Amendment grants the right to a jury trial in criminal prosecutions. The Seventh Amendment has been interpreted to apply only to civil suits in which money damages are claimed (e.g., breach of contract, personal injury). The Supreme Court has long distinguished such “legal” claims and “equitable” claims. The Seventh Amendment does not apply if the lawsuit seeks an equitable remedy (such as an injunction) where no money damages are involved.

What Does a Civil Jury Look Like?

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Seventh Amendment as including a jury of 12 persons under the supervision of a magistrate who instructs the jurors on the law, informs them on facts, and may set aside their verdict. Yet, many state courts’ juries do not look like federal courts. Some state civil juries only consist of 6 or 8 jurors.

The Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” If you are involved in a lawsuit in which the amount sought is greater than $20, your right to a trial by jury is preserved.

How Is a Jury Chosen?

You may also have to help in choosing the jury. There are different procedures in different court systems. However, a group of potential jurors is chosen at random in all systems. Then, a smaller group is chosen to sit in the jury box, where the judge and parties question them.

Many judges do all the questioning because they feel that lawyers try to persuade the jurors rather than merely select them. The parties may then “challenge” jurors, excusing them from service. When both sides can agree on a jury, it is sworn in.

In Which Courts Am I Guaranteed a Civil Jury?

The Seventh Amendment covers courts under the federal government’s authority, including those in territories and the District of Columbia. Nevertheless, it does not generally apply to state courts. If the issue in a state court is a federal right, the court cannot eliminate a civil jury.

What Is the Right to a Speedy Trial in Criminal Cases?

In the United States, the two types of laws are criminal law and civil law. Civil law is intended to address conduct that causes injury to an individual or other private party through lawsuits. Consequences for any parties liable for such acts are generally monetary but may also include court-ordered remedies such as injunctions or restraining orders.

Criminal law is intended to address behavior considered an offense against society, the state, or the public, even if the victim of such behavior is a person. Someone convicted of a crime will be forced to pay fines, and they may also forfeit their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time. Those accused under criminal law may also lose other privileges, such as the right to vote.
Whether someone is charged with a serious or a minor crime, the accused still has the right to a trial. The “speedy trial amendment,” or the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guarantees a defendant the privilege of a speedy trial in a criminal case.

Many states also have speedy trial laws, state constitutional provisions, or statutes ensuring the right to a speedy trial.

A defendant may exercise their right to a speedy trial upon arrest, indictment, or other formal accusations. However, the exact definition of “speedy” and the benefits of demanding this right vary from state to state.

How Long Is a Speedy Trial? When Does Right to a Speedy Trial Begin?

A fast and speedy trial is generally intended to stop the accused from being kept in jail without adjudication for an extended amount of time. A state statute will determine a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. This statute will determine the number of days or months the prosecution has to bring the defendant to trial.

In many jurisdictions, the prosecution generally has 60 to 120 days to bring an imprisoned defendant to trial.

It is essential to mention that the following are not included in the calculation of speedy trial time:

  • Delays that are caused by motions, such as motions to review evidence or extend the discovery period;
  • Adjournments with the consent of the defendant;
  • The time when the defendant is unavailable or is without legal counsel; and
  • Other exceptional circumstances, such as acts of God, cause the Courts to close. For example, if there is a blizzard and no one can safely make it to the Court, the trial may be delayed until conditions are safe again.

Generally speaking, the overall speedy trial time frame is 70 days from the filing date of the indictment unless waived. To reiterate, the right to a speedy trial begins at the defendant’s arrest and when charges are filed. This starts the clock on when the government must get the case to trial. If the defendant has not been arrested or formally charged with any crime, the clock on getting a trial set has not begun.

To win their case for violating their rights, the defendant must demonstrate that the factors weigh in their favor. The specific circumstances of each particular case are crucial in determining whether the right to a speedy trial has been violated. Should the court determine that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated, they will disregard the prosecution with prejudice.

According to the Sixth Amendment, a criminal facing a felony charge or imprisonment also has the privilege of a “public trial.” This means that the general public and media members will be permitted to attend the defendant’s trial unless the defendant waives this right. Trials are supposed to be public to ensure that the defendant’s rights are being protected and keep the courtroom staff mindful of their responsibilities and duties owed to the defendant under the Constitution.

There are limited circumstances in which a judge may prohibit a public trial and close the courtroom to the public. This is generally when there is a substantial danger to the public or to protect the identities of the witnesses or defendants involved in the case. An example of this would be how a judge may close the courtroom to the public and media during a rape trial when the victim is on the stand testifying. This is done to protect the victim’s identity and disclose their name to the public.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The differences between civil law and common law emphasize finding a good attorney to represent your case. An experienced lawyer would be able to help you determine what your rights are under the Seventh Amendment. A lawyer with experience would know how to choose a jury and which potential jurors should be excused. They would also know if you were guaranteed a jury based on the claims of your lawsuit.

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