Case Law-State Court Decisions

Written decisions rendered within the state court system are found in regional reporters. The publishing house that is responsible for publishing state court decisions has essentially divided the United States into regions. For instance, Illinois is contained within the North Eastern Region. As such, a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court that is reported in written form could be found both in the state reporter, known as the Illinois Official Supreme Reporter, and also in the regional reporter, known as the North Eastern Reporter. The decision of Jones v. Smith from the Supreme Court of Illinois discussed earlier would be reported under the same name with the following citation: 208 Ill. 2d 450, 804 N.E.2d 480 (2004). The decision then would be found in volume 208 of the Illinois Official Supreme Reporter at page 450 and would also be found in the regional reporter known as the North Eastern Reporter at volume 804, page 480. Again, the year refers to the year when the decision was rendered.

Written decisions from trial courts at the state court level frequently are not published by any publishing house. To the extent they are available at all, they may only be available within that local court house. Some states have adopted trial court reporting systems wherein certain written decisions that are presented to them may be published. In the state of Virginia there is a publication known as Circuit Court Opinions, which consists of written decisions made by circuit court judges in the state of Virginia. Those decisions, however, are only published if either the judge or one of the attorneys forwards that written decision to the publishing firm.

Courts either at the state or federal level are charged principally with resolving disputes that are presented to them and in that context, render interpretations of state or federal statutes or state or federal constitutional provisions. Any decision rendered by a trial court judge is subject to being reviewed and potentially overturned by the appellate court that has appellate jurisdiction over that trial court. For instance, in the federal system, any decision rendered by a United States District Court is subject to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for that circuit. The United States District Court judge may have rendered a written decision.

That decision then can be reviewed by the judges in the United States Circuit Court for that circuit, and those judges on the circuit court can either agree or disagree with the decision from the United States District Court. The decision rendered by the United States Court of Appeals likewise may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. If the U.S. Supreme Court exercises its discretion and decides to hear the case, then the U.S. Supreme Court can either uphold or reverse that decision.

At the state court level the same procedure applies. Any decision rendered by a trial court can be appealed to the appellate court that has jurisdiction. The appellate court can then either uphold or reverse the trial court decision. The high court within that state generally has the last word on those cases that are initially tried within that state. However, if the case involves an issue of federal or constitutional law, then the U.S. Supreme Court can decide to hear a case from the state court system.

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