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6

A JAILHOUSE LAWYERS MANUAL

Ch. 2

Fifth Circuit: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas;7 Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee; Seventh Circuit: Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin; Eighth Circuit: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota; Ninth Circuit: Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon,

Washington, and the Northern Mariana Islands; Tenth Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming; Eleventh Circuit: Alabama, Florida, and Georgia; D.C. Circuit: District of Columbia.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in the federal judicial system and is the final court of appeal for all federal cases. The Court can also hear criminal appeals from the highest appellate state court, but only if those cases involve constitutional questions or issues of federal law.8 If a case does not have a federal legal issue, then the state Supreme Court is the court of last resort for criminal cases that began in the state court system.

Understanding the position and powers of different courts will help to make sure that you file your case in a court that has the power to hear it, and has the power to grant you the remedy you are asking for. If you know the limited jurisdiction of various courts, you will also know if a court has acted beyond its powers. For example, if you were convicted of assault in the Federal Tax Court, the conviction is invalid because that court is only authorized to hear tax cases; convicting someone of assault would exceed its subject matter jurisdiction. Similarly, if you were convicted of a crime in the Criminal Court of New York City but the offense took place outside the City of New York, then the court would not have jurisdiction over the case.

  • 2.

    The Basis of Judicial Decision Making: What is “The Law”?

    • (a)

      Types of Law: Constitutions, Statutes, and Case Law

Judges make decisions based on law. Your goal as a jailhouse lawyer is to convince the judge that the law supports your arguments. There are three sources of law: (1) constitutions; (2) legislation (also called statutes” or “statutory law”); and (3) case law (previous decisions made by judges). Judges weigh each source of law in the following order: constitutions are more persuasive (more convincing to the court) than legislation, and legislation is more persuasive than case law. Figure 2 lists the sources of law from most to least persuasive.

U.S. Constitution (strongest authority, most persuasive)

" Federal legislation

" State constitutions

" State legislation

" Case law from appellate courts

" Case law from trial courts (weakest authority, least persuasive)

Figure 2:

Hierarchy of Sources of Law

Part

C

of

this

Chapter

will

describes

how

to

find

the

relevant

law(s)

for

your

case.

Before

you

start

researching,

though,

it

is

important

that

you

understand

how

the

different

kinds

of

law

work

together.

A constitution is the supreme law of the jurisdiction. The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. Each state also has a constitution; if a state constitution and the U.S. constitution are in conflict, a court will follow the U.S. constitution.9

7.

Before Oct. 1, 1981, the

5th

Circuit

included

all

of

the

states

that

are

now

in

the

5th

Circuit

plus

all

of

the

states now in the 11th Circuit.

8.

As explained in Part B(1)(a) of this Chapter, federal law includes matters involving the Constitution, a federal

statute, or a treaty.

9.

U.S. Const. art. VI.

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