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Court History and Purpose Essay


“The court represents the collective conscience of society, serving as an instrument for expressing the revulsion people feel for those who commit particularly heinous crimes” (Siegal, Schmalleger, & Worrall, 2011). This paper will discuss the history of court and its purpose. It will also define the dual court system. It will describe the role that early legal codes, the common law, and precedent played in the development of courts. It will identify the role of courts in present criminal justice.

The Purpose of Court

The purpose for court is simply to find guilt or innocence in someone who has been charged of a crime or to settle disputes in civil matters. Such matters must have the legal authority of a judge to be considered a court. In many courts the adversary process is used, allowing both sides to give any evidence, arguments, or persuasion to support their case. A judge or a jury will decide whose case is credible based on the arguments given. In the past, disputes were handled informally and not in a civilized manner. Some people would take matters into their own hands, which led to violence. In today’s society, all matters are handled in a formal and civilized manner.

The Dual Court System

The judicial branch of the U.S. Government is considered a dual court system because it separates the federal court from the state court. “The dual system is advantageous and desirable because it parallels federalism, a system of government where power is constitutionally divided between a central governing body (i.e., the federal government) and various constituent units (i.e., the states) (Siegal, Schmalleger, & Worrall, 2011). The establishment of a dual court system began in colonial period. “The United States Constitution mandated the establishment of a Federal court system in 1789, when each of the original 13 Colonies already maintained its own comprehensive court system (2013). In federalism, it is required that laws are made by the federal government and the state. Although the dual court system is “desirable”, it can also cause confusion between the federal and state courts. This is because some cases can be heard at both federal and state levels, and it can be hard to determine how the case should be handled.

The Development of Courts

The development and influences of the U.S. judicial system came along during the time this country was started. In the beginning, religion played a major part in making the laws of the country. The early legal codes played a significant role in the judicial system as well. These legal codes were used back 1760 B.C. One of the most known legal code is the Code of Hammurabi, who was the king of Babylon. The philosophy behind this code is retribution. Other early legal codes came from ancient Rome. The Twelve Tables were written in 450 B.C. They were said to be the first written legal code. The Twelve Tables was based on strong retribution, establishing the “eye for an eye” theory for justice. Because the early legal codes were considered to be harsh and informal, it was paved the way for the changes of the judicial system to develop a more formal and civilized system.

Common law emerged in England during the Middle Ages and was applied within British colonies across continents (2010). Its role gave judges authority to make decisions as they saw fit. There was no legislature or law making process during this time. Judges would also record the decisions, which led to precedent. “Precedent refers, generally, to some prior action that guides current action” (Siegal, Schmalleger, & Worrall, 2011). In new cases, judges could apply precedents in their decision, which is how makes it common law. Common law has been implemented into today’s judicial system by following previous courts decisions in cases. It is unlikely that once a judge makes a decision that it will be reversed or changed from precedent.

The Present Role of Courts

In today’s judicial system, there are two roles involved in courts: adjudication and oversight. Adjudication means that judges decides if a person is guilty or innocent when they have been involved in a criminal act. Appellate courts make sure that lower courts are applying the correct laws in court proceedings. Having the appellate courts verify all laws ensures that if any mistakes or incorrect information was given by the judges, they will be held accountable. Courts oversee the operations of criminal justice officials to provide a level of indirect supervision. The appellate courts decide laws that will determine how police officers to their job on the street (Siegal, Schmalleger, & Worrall, 2011). Oversight is only necessary when the appellate courts are involved in a decision. If such decisions are publicized, the appellate courts will be involved also. It all depends on the severity of the incident involve by police officers will it be brought to the courts attention.


The judicial system has indeed changed over the course of time. History has shown that the development of the judicial system was fathered from England and other ancient heritages that set the foundation of how laws are created and implemented into today’s society. More common law is being practiced in many states across the nation. Some of the practices were very informal and retributive, however in today’s court system, court proceedings are in a formal and civilized setting.

Siegal, L.J., Schmallegar, F., & Worrall, J.L (2011). Courts and criminal justice in
America. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
The common law and civil law traditions. (2010). The Robbins Collection. Retrieved
From University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall):
http://www.law.berkeley.edu/library/robbins/CommonLawCivilLawTraditions.html Understanding the U.S. court system in a glance. (2013). Retrieved from

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