The Laws of Court in America?

Through Mary, Help of Christians,

I'm writing a book and there is going to be a scene involving a trial for manslaughter. Now I know very little about court systems and all that so can people here offer me information on how the US court systems works? Specifically:

-How is a jury chosen to attend a trial? When the jury says that the defendant is guilty, can they decide a punishment between themselves? Can a judge, even when it is not a bench trial (a trial without any jury) decide if the defendant is guilty or not? Can a judge decide the punishment to be imposed on the defendant?

-What is a mistrial? When can it be made?

-How is a court divided?
Thanks.

Hello,
Here are some links that may be helpful:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_selection
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_procedure_in_the_United_States
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistrial#Mistrials
Each of these links also has references for you to follow up on. I also recommend when doing your research that you take into account things such as the exact location of the setting (state, city, court, etc.) as there are differences in state laws, there are federal laws to keep in mind depending on details of the crime, etc. I hope that helps you!

Thanks Paul1UP and Warrenton! Your information really helped.

When I asked how a court is didvided, I meant which people come into it to settle the trial or lawsuit and what their jobs are called.

For example, we have the judge, the jury, the defendant, the lawyers and the witnesses who come. Are there anymore people who have to come to the court house?

Yes, there are additional support personnel. There can be a court clerk, but this depends on several factors, including which state the court in your story is located. See here for additional information:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_clerk
The stenographer, or court reporter, records every word of the trial and prepares the transcript of the trial. A bailiff holds order in the court and keeps custody of the jury and of prisoners who appear in court (in a federal court, a U.S. marshal would have custody of any prisoners). Many judges have a law clerk to assist them. And there may be a language interpreter if a defendant or witness cannot speak English.
Here is a layout of a court from a Michigan government website:
courts.michigan.gov/lc-gallery/graphics/courtroom-layout.gif

**Quote: “I’m writing a book and there is going to be a scene involving a trial for manslaughter. Now I know very little about court systems.”

Quote: “How is a jury chosen to attend a trial? When the jury says that the defendant is guilty, can they decide a punishment between themselves? Can a judge, even when it is not a bench trial (a trial without any jury) decide if the defendant is guilty or not? Can a judge decide the punishment to be imposed on the defendant? What is a mistrial? When can it be made? How is a court divided?”**

Hi! It’s wonderful that you are inspired to be so creative. It must be fantastic to have such a talent, and I am glad you seem to derive so much pleasure and enjoyment from the act of being creative. I’m sure that creativity must be a gift from God Himself. If so, be humble, as it is God’s gift, be prayerful and seek guidance how you use it.

Writing books is a precarious business, only a few really are successful commercially, and the number of Celebrated Authors incredibly small in relation to the number of books released to the market. If you are interested in The American Legal System it may be that the books of John Grisham may be of interest to you. Grisham was a Lawyer and his books set in the Southern States are extremely successful worldwide and have even been made into Films. Tom Cruise was in one.

jgrisham.com/books/ As you can see they are all involve The American Legal System. I do not endorse their content or otherwise. Reading a couple, may help you, I trust they will be of benefit to you.

Which brings me to the point of my responding to your post. If you intend writing a book, intend it to be a good book, enjoyably readable and successful in commercial terms, my recommendation to you would be to write on a subject that you are completely and utterly cognisant with. Otherwise readers, whose experience of life may be broader than yours, will remain thoroughly unconvinced by portrayals of circumstances far beyond your actual acquaintance. And thus, unable to employ the suspension of disbelief necessary, to deliver a powerfully dramatic plot, with the absorbing verve and aplomb, that is the reserve of great writers, that will grip and inspire the imagination of the reader.

Every person has a good book inside themselves somewhere. But few have the talent to express that in writing, though sometimes their story, can be teased out, by an extremely talented interviewer. With respect, the classic recommendation to people in your position, is to first write about a subject matter that you really know about, and set that story in circumstances and surroundings, you are extremely familiar with. The edge of authenticity and aestheticism that this will give your work in convincing realism, can work symbiotically with the plot, to the mutual benefit of Author and reader alike.

There’s lot’s that I could write about this, having links in my past to a number of tremendously successful Authors. Most of whose work has been made into Blockbuster Films or developed into successful T.V. Series. Do not be in any way discouraged by the comments above, that would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But when you wrote “I know very little about court systems” it raises fundamental questions regarding the advisability of beginning to write, ones first work concerning such a highly specialised, incredibly detailed field. Translating a convincing dialogue alone, will be an impossible task, to a non native of America. It’s not as if they speak English!

**I truly believe, this is the very best advice or guidance that anyone could ever give you.

Write about what you know!**

PP

I second the comment to write about something you know quite well or can learn suffiiciently well. The legal system is not something that one can casually “learn” in suffiicient depth in my opinion. In the US we have far too many legal shows including an entire “court TV” cable channel that airs live trials from different states with legal experts also discussing high profile cases. Audiences here are more learned about what happens in court than earlier generations. In the past people may never have set foot in a courtroom unless they got called for jury duty or had a contested divorce.

I’m a lawyer who has a background in journalism and I think it is a very tricky venue to use in a book if one isn’t a lawyer with trial experience.

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