Criminal Justice Paper on Discuss the American Court system


The American court system is well defined and structured. It is hierarchical in nature and divided into two segments that include federal courts and state courts. Federal courts operate under the US constitution and federal legal authority. The courts also form the major branch of the nation’s judiciary of the federal government (Jenkins, 2011). On the other hand, state courts are the territorial judicial branches that operate under the state constitution and territorial law. The courts deal with different cases as appropriate and deliver verdict or sentencing according to the law. This paper gives a comprehensive description of the US court structure and litigation processes that lead to sentencing.

The sentencing and court structures of the American court system

As noted, the US has a credible court structure through which different cases are heard and determined. The structures that are evident in two levels are interlinked and operate purposely to serve the public fairly (Jenkins, 2011). The structure or the layers of the judicial system starts by the courts of special jurisdiction that are set to help in hearing specific cases such as those touching on family issues, bankruptcy and taxation issues among others. The second court in the structure is the trial courts where cases start and they are two types that include criminal and civil courts (Buenger, Muniz & Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015). The next court is the appellate court and the Supreme Court that has the power to hear any appeals and disputes arising from the lower courts.

All the courts have clear litigation processes that involve the issuance of witness testimonies for both parties upon which decisions are made at the end of the process. The decision is called sentencing and it is done under the law. Sentencing is where one can be jailed or fined if found guilty or set free if not culpable of the charges. Therefore, sentencing is a product of the court system and structure from the initial stages. It comes after litigation has taken place and it is issued on a case by case basis in a structured format of a definite or a arrange basis,

A description and a comparison of indeterminate and structured sentencing

The sentencing of criminals or accused persons is done by the court of law after the hearing is completed. It is the process where one is subjecting to a punishment prescribed in the law relating to the crime committed. Sentencing can be indeterminate or structured. Structured sentencing is where a judge sentences a culprit to a specific period in jail (Jenkins, 2011). Under the approach, the judge lacks the discretion of being indefinite since the law dictates precise punishment. However, indeterminate sentencing allows judges to sentence offenders to arrange of years as opposed to a specific time period. The judge is allowed to sentence one to a period of one to five years (Buenger, Muniz & Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015). An example that illustrates the difference between indeterminate and structured sentencing is evident in the burglary offense. The law dictates that any burglary offender must serve an automatic 3-year jail term.

The four sentencing options currently employed within the American sentencing structure

Indeed, judges in the US have the discretion to consider other sentencing options when sentencing the offender. The notable and widely used options include suspended sentences, fines or restitution, community service and probation. Suspended sentences are normally issued to first-time offenders with less serious crimes. The sentencing means that a judge has refrained from carrying out an already decided sentence for one reason or another or allow for a certain condition to be undertaken. Fines and restitution are another widely used option that judges have. The judge’s order the payment of fines as an alternative to serving jail term in the case of conviction.

They also order fines to punish the offender for a crime committed against the government. For example, one can be ordered to pay a fine for stealing a government’s property. However, restitution is where a victim to a crime is paid or compensated for the injuries incurred. The other option is the community services where a judge orders the offender to perform community service work in a particular area for a specific period (Buenger, Muniz, & Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015). Probation remains another viable option that is ordered on offenders with less serious offenses. It involves monitoring of the offender for a period under a probation officer.






Buenger, M. L., Muniz, P. J., & Edward Elgar Publishing. (2015). American judicial power: The state court perspective. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Pub. Ltd.

Jenkins, J. A. (2011). The American courts: A procedural approach. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.