The United States’ system of government is called federalism and consists of one federal government regulating issues of a national concern and separate state governments regulating local issues. The bulk of criminal lawmaking resides with the states because of the police power granted to the states in the Tenth Amendment. Ninety percent of all criminal laws are state laws. Many federal crimes are also state crimes, and a defendant can be prosecuted federally and by a state without triggering double jeopardy protection. If a federal statute exists on an issue, a state statute cannot conflict with it because of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
The Constitution sets forth three branches of government. The legislative branch consists of Congress and has the authority to create laws. The executive branch is headed by the president of the United States and has the authority to enforce the laws created by the legislative branch. The judicial branch is headed by the US Supreme Court and has the authority to interpret laws and the Constitution. Each branch checks and balances each other, and the judicial branch ensures that no branch oversteps its authority and violates separation of powers. State governments mimic the federal branches of government at the state level and set forth authorities in each state’s constitution.
The federal court system exclusively adjudicates federal matters and consists primarily of the US District Court, the US Court of Appeals or Circuit Court, and the US Supreme Court. Each state has its own court system consisting primarily of a trial court, intermediate court of appeal, and possibly a high court of appeal. Trial courts have original jurisdiction and can accept evidence. Appellate courts have appellate jurisdiction and are limited to reviewing the trial courts’ decisions for error.
Each party in a civil or criminal trial must meet a burden of proof, which consists of a burden of producing evidence and a burden of persuading the trier of fact. The burden of proof for a civil plaintiff or defendant is preponderance of evidence, which means that the trier of fact must be convinced it is more likely than not that a party should prevail. The burden of proof for the prosecution in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a stricter standard than preponderance of evidence and consists of enough compelling evidence to rebut the defendant’s presumption of innocence. The burden of proof for a criminal defense varies but is often preponderance of evidence. Inferences, which are conclusions the trier of fact may make, and presumptions, which are conclusions the trier of fact must make, can help meet the burden of proof. The evidence presented to meet the burden of proof can be circumstantial, which indirectly proves a fact, or direct, which directly proves a fact. Circumstantial evidence leaves room for reasonable doubt, but it can be reliable and the basis of a successful criminal prosecution.
You Be the Juror
Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide whether enough evidence exists to meet the burden of proof. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.
- The defendant was convicted of possession of a handgun with an altered serial number. The defendant contended that he did not know the serial number had been altered. The prosecution offered evidence that the gun was “shiny” in the location of the serial number. The prosecution also proved that the defendant was in possession of the handgun for a week. Is this sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the serial number had been altered? Read Robles v. State, 758 N.E.2d 581 (2001). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7369971752262973607&q= Indiana+2001+%22Robles+v.+State%22&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.
- The defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer when he shot a sheriff. The defendant contended that he did not know the victim was a peace officer. The sheriff was in a vehicle with a whip antenna, was armed, and was well known as a sheriff in Angola Prison, where the defendant was incarcerated previous to the shooting incident. However, the sheriff was in an unmarked car with the red light covered, out of uniform, and his badge was obscured. Is this sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the victim was a peace officer? Read Donahue v. Burl Cain, 231 F.3d 1000 (2000). The case is available at this link: http://openjurist.org/231/f3d/1000/larry-donahue-v-burl-cain.
- The defendant was convicted of third-degree robbery, which requires a threat of immediate use of physical force. The defendant entered a McDonald’s restaurant twenty minutes before closing dressed in sunglasses, a leather jacket, and a bandana that covered his hair. The defendant beckoned the clerk and thereafter demanded that she put money from different cash register drawers into his bag. The defendant did not appear armed, nor did he raise his voice or verbally threaten the clerk. Is this sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant threatened immediate use of physical force? Read State v. Hall, 966 P.2d 208 (1998). The case is available at this link: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/S44712.htm.
- The defendant was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to sell. The defendant possessed seven individual packages of white powdery substance, but only one package was tested (and it tested positive for cocaine). Is this sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed cocaine with intent to sell? Read Richards v. Florida, No. 4008-4216 (2010). The case is available at this link: http://www.4dca.org/opinions/June%202010/06-09-10/4D08-4216.op.w-dissent.pdf.
Cases of Interest
- Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), discusses separation of powers: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1768307810279741111&q= Clinton+v.+Jones&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.
- Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005), discusses the reach of the commerce clause: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15669334228411787012&q= %22criminal+burden+of+proof%22&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_ylo=2000.
- Sabri v. United States, 541 U.S. 600 (2004), discusses the federal government’s ability to criminalize bribery of a local government official: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-44.ZS.html.
- U.S. v. Comstock, 627 F.3d 513 (2010), discusses criminal and civil burdens of proof: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15669334228411787012&q= %22criminal+burden+of+proof%22&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_ylo=2000.
Articles of Interest
- Connections between federalism and homeland security: https://www.hsaj.org/articles/163
- Video court: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9N3D24G0.htm
- Burden of proof: http://law.jrank.org/pages/4927/Burden-Proof.html
- Federal and state court systems: http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/court-role-and-structure/comparing-federal-state-courts
Websites of Interest
Statistics of Interest
Order, U.S. v. Arizona, No. CV 10-1413-PHX-SRB, U.S. District Court, accessed October 1, 2010, http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/20100729_ARIZONA_DOC.pdf.