Law Professors Pen Guide to American Courts

Apr 18, 2016

Unless you went to law school, the workings of American courts may be something of a mystery. To help students and the public get a handle on how courts do business, two professors from the University of Virginia have written a concise guide to our judicial system, and as Sandy Hausman reports, they took an unusual approach.

Watch TV in this country, and the proceedings in a courtroom might seem straightforward, but the actual workings of our judicial system are far more complex than Judge Judy would have you believe, so law professor Greg Mitchell and political scientist David Klein decided to write a basic guide for the public.  It’s called American Courts Explained, and Mitchell says it’s comprehensive.

“How state courts interact with federal courts, from the lowest level court – small claims court -- all the way up to the Supreme Court, and we cover how criminal and civil cases are treated within those courts,” says Mitchell

About 250 pages of that might seem like a cure for insomnia, but the two tell their story by tracing one criminal case and one civil case from start to finish.  The criminal matter was a murder, and the man who confessed to that crime faces the death penalty.  The civil case involved a company that made a product called Fruit Nibbles for the baby food maker Beechnut.  Unfortunately, those snacks spoiled in the package.  Again, law professor Greg Mitchell.

“Shortly after its introduction into the market, Beechnut is just receiving an avalanche of complaints about the disgusting nature of these products,” Mitchell says.

The question for the courts – who should pay for the recall. Mitchell hopes reading the book leads people to be less critical of the American judicial system.

“I think people critique the jury system without understanding how many controls there already are to make sure it’s working property and how limited the role of the jury really is.”

And he hopes some readers will get hooked – excited enough about the subject to visit the book’s website, where full transcripts of the trials are posted.