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Terms in this set (142)

Government officials including police officers, senators, judges, and presidents are accountable (responsible) to the law. An independent judiciary holds government leaders accountable for their actions. The rule of law ensures that no one, regardless of her or his position of power, is above the law. If laws are going to apply to everyone, there must also be an established and practiced set of procedures (directions) that are uniformly applied. Judges must use the same set of written laws and procedures available to defendants and their attorneys. This ensures that fair procedures are followed. Rule of law also makes sure that judges and juries base decisions on the law. People accused of crimes must be charged with a violation of a law. This means that they have to be charged with breaking the law. This right is protected by the Sixth Amendment, which ensures that decisions are based on laws by guaranteeing that people accused of crimes are informed of the charges against them. Application of the law must also be applied consistently. Regardless of who is accused of a
crime, justice must be administered without prejudice. This means that that each person should be treated in the same way by the legal system no matter who they are. Enforcement of law to prevent crime requires the cooperation and management of federal, state, and local crime prevention agencies including local police and county sheriffs. Lastly, in order to ensure fair administration of justice, citizens must have access to the written laws, participate on juries, and be knowledgeable of how the legal system works. The legal system must be transparent, or clear. This concept is known as transparency of
institutions and requires that the general public know the court system's rules and procedures which serve as common tools to guarantee justice for all.
A political party is a group of citizens or voters with similar views on public issues who work
to put their ideas into government action and who work together to elect a candidate. One of
the jobs of political parties is to nominate candidates to run for office. That is, to select them to represent their particular political party in an election. Parties choose a candidate who
agrees with their beliefs and try to persuade voters to support their candidate running for
office. Competing political parties give voters a choice among candidates and ideas. To
know where a party stands on the major issues, the voters can look at the party's platform. A platform is a series of statements expressing the party's principles, beliefs, and positions on issues. Each individual part of a platform is called a plank. The platform communicates to voters what the political party plans to do if it wins. (Examples: Platform Issue = Healthcare; Plank = Agreeing/Disagreeing with universal healthcare)

The United States has had a long tradition of a two party system. This means that two
major political parties have controlled elections and have the most participation by voters.
The two major political parties today are the Democrats and the Republicans. Democrats:The federal government should take a more active role in people's lives, especially those in need. Democrats are not opposed to raising taxes to pay for social programs. Republicans: The federal government should take a limited role in people's lives. Republicans favor lowering taxes and less government spending.
Political parties play a major role and make an important impact in American society. Political parties are important to the democratic process because they allow individuals to communicate their beliefs to the government. Because political parties are made up of large groups of people, it allows their group's voices and shared ideas to be more easily heard by the government. Political parties also educate citizens about issues and acts as a guide during elections. Generally, people tend to vote for candidates from their own political party or for issues that their political party supports. Political parties also impact the government at the federal, state and local levels. Political parties act as loose confederations (groups that come together for similar reasons/causes) at the state and local levels. Because there are many more elected offices at the state and local levels, political parties tend to be more active at these levels. Also, political parties raise and spend money in order to get candidates elected and they use funds to help spread the message about their beliefs and ideas to the people. Candidates representing the major
political party that wins more seats in one house of the national or state legislature becomes
the majority party in that house of the legislature while the major party that wins fewer seats
in one house of the national or state legislature becomes the minority party in that house of
the legislature. The majority party in a legislative house enjoys more control over the lawmaking process compared with the minority party in that same legislative house.
During an election, candidates who are running for public office will often create political
advertisements and commercials to appeal to voters. As a voter, it is important for people to
consider several things when determining who to vote for. A voter may wish to consider a candidate's previous experiences. People who are elected to public office may have served in some other elected or appointed position before, or have a background in a field that would help them do their job. For example, many elected
Congressmen/Congresswomen and Senators actively participate in their communities, have been a lawyer or a judge, are college graduates, and may have served in local government before running for state or federal office.

A voter may wish to consider a candidate's platform - the set of ideas which are often based on their political party beliefs that a candidate has on certain issues. These ideas could cover such
topics as education, religion, health care, government spending, taxation and foreign policy, just to name a few. A voter may wish to view a political debate that may take place before the election. For major national elections, these debates are usually televised. Usually, candidates who are running for President will want to take on their opponent in a debate to reveal their thoughts on issues and persuade the voters to vote for them based on the topics debated. A voter may wish to consider the various political advertisements that run in magazines,
newspapers, television, radio and on-line when trying to determine which candidate to vote for.
Candidates will often use these advertisements as a way to appeal to voters and to identify
themselves as the "best choice" for voters. Sometimes, candidates may even decide to put down the candidates that they are running against in order to make themselves look better to the voters.
The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution lists six goals and purposes of the U.S. government. The first goal listed in the Preamble is "form a more perfect union" and means that the purpose of the U.S. Constitution was to create an even better government than the one that was in place during the writing of the document (the Articles of Confederation). The next goal listed in the Preamble is that the government will "establish justice". This means that the government places the law higher than any individual, including government officials. Establish justice also means that all people will be treated fairly and equally under the law. The third goal listed in the Preamble is "insure domestic tranquility". This goal means that the government will protect citizens from conflict in the country and make sure that states do not go to war with each other.
The fourth goal listed in the Preamble is "provide for the common defence". This means that
government will provide one central defense against any attacks from outside countries or groups. The next goal is "promote the general welfare". This means that government is focused on the public interest and that every state and individual can benefit from what the government can provide. This goal relates to other goals listed in the Preamble. Establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, and providing for the common defense are all things that benefit the public interest. The sixth and final goal is "secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity". This means that by having a government focused on the public interest, current and future generations will have a government that protects liberty and freedom.
The Framers still feared that one branch of government could gain control of the other two. In order to ensure no one of the three branches would become too powerful, they established checks and balances. The principle of checks and balances allows each branch of government to limit the power of the other branches. The executive branch may veto laws passed by Congress, nominate certain government officials and Supreme Court justices, and propose new legislation. The president can make treaties, but
they must be ratified by the Senate. The legislative branch can impeach and convict the
president, other members of the executive branch, and federal judges. Congress may pass
laws over the president's veto by two-thirds majority vote of both houses. The legislative
branch may reject appointments made by the president as well as propose amendments to
the United States Constitution. The judicial branch may declare executive actions and laws
passed by Congress unconstitutional. This power of judicial review allows U.S. courts to examine the laws or actions of the legislative and executive branches of the government and to determine whether such actions are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Judicial review is an important check on the legislative and executive branches because it prevents them from straying too far from the Constitution. The Supreme Court case that established the power of judicial review is Marbury v. Madison. Since the judicial branch has the power to interpret laws, it must be able to determine if a law is unconstitutional and declare it "null and void".
At the federal level, the process of how a bill becomes a law can be difficult. Each bill begins
as an idea. An idea for a law can come from U.S. Representatives, Senators, the president,
or even ordinary citizens. Once an idea is proposed in Congress, it is called a bill. Bills can be proposed in either chamber (house) of Congress (the House of Representatives or the Senate). Depending on which chamber of Congress proposes the bill, it will be assigned to an appropriate committee. The committee in Congress to which the bill is assigned will research more information related to the bill. There are several different types of committees each with their own set of responsibilities. Every member of Congress serves on one or more committees. After the committee completes its research and discusses the bill, the committee decides if the bill should move forward. If the committee agrees to move the bill forward, the bill moves to the full house of Congress where the bill was first introduced for debate and vote. If that chamber of Congress votes to keep the bill (for example, the U.S. House of Representatives) it then moves to the other chamber of Congress (for example, the U.S. Senate) for more debate and discussion. Finally, the other chamber of Congress will vote on the bill. If members of that
chamber vote to keep the bill, the president will then be asked to sign the bill. If there are more
than 10 days remaining in the congressional session, the president may take one of three
actions. The president may choose to sign the bill into law, the president may choose to veto
(reject) the bill or the president may choose to take no action on the bill. A bill becomes law if
the president takes no action on the bill and there are at least 10 days remaining in the
congressional session. If fewer than 10 days remain in a congressional session when the
president is presented with a bill to sign, the president may take no action on the bill and the bill is vetoed. Bills on which the president takes no action when less than 10 days remain in the
congressional session are called pocket vetoes.
At the state level, the process of how a bill becomes a law can be difficult. Each bill begins as an idea. An idea for a law can come from state legislators, the governor, or even ordinary citizens. An idea once proposed in the state legislature is called a bill. Bills can be proposed in either the state house of representatives or the state senate. The house or senate committee that the bill is assigned to will research more information related to the bill. There are several different types of committees each with their own set of responsibilities. Every state legislator serves on one or more committees.
After the committee completes its research and discusses the bill, the committee decides if the
bill should move forward. If the committee agrees to move the bill forward, the bill moves to the
full house of Congress where the bill was first introduced for debate and vote. If that legislative
chamber votes to keep the bill (for example, the state house of representatives) it then moves
to the other legislative chamber (for example, the state senate) for more debate and discussion.
Finally, the other legislative chamber will vote on the bill. If members of that chamber vote to
keep the bill, the governor will then be asked to sign the bill into law. State legislatures have various committees similar to the federal Congress. The committees study bills, hold hearings, and revise bills if necessary. Both state houses (the House of Representatives and the Senate) must approve a bill and the governor must sign it before it becomes law.
The Magna Carta is a document that was developed by English citizens to require King John of England to protect certain rights of the people and to limit the king's powers. The document forced the king to observe the laws of the land, which allowed for the citizens to gain liberties they did not have before the document was signed. The Magna Carta provided the idea of a limited monarchy. This means that the king shares power with an elected legislature and agrees to be bound by a constitution
or a set of laws. Additionally, three other ideas came out of the Magna Carta: writ of habeas corpus, rule by constitutional law (the constitution governs all people within a country), and the development of common law. Although these goals of the document were not achieved, the Magna Carta became a symbol that, even in a monarchy, the king could be required to follow the law. The Magna Carta influenced the colonists' views on the purposes of government. The United
States has a limited government through the three branches outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
Each branch is given the power to check or limit the power of the other two. The system of
checks and balances keeps any one branch from getting too powerful. The writ of habeas corpus (court order requiring that a person who has been arrested be brought into court) is also found in the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 9 states: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it. The U.S. government is also run by constitutional law. The U.S. Constitution is
the law of the land and no one is above it.
The English Bill of Rights is a document that was written with the purpose of protecting peoples'
rights and stated that every citizen possesses individual rights which are unbreakable. The rights in the document are enumerated, or listed and include the right to bear arms in defense and the right to petition the monarch. The right to petition the monarch means that citizens have the right to
communicate with the monarch to make requests about what the monarch might do for the people.
This document also focused on the importance of having the consent of the people in government.
The English Bill of Rights influenced the colonists' views about the purposes of government by
including the ideas contained in the document into two founding U.S. documents: The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. In the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the colonists wrote that they held certain truths to be self-evident, or clear, that all men are created equal and they have certain unalienable rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The way to secure these rights was that government would get their power from the consent of the governed. The U.S. Bill of Rights also contains ideas from the English Bill of Rights. Similar to the English Bill of Rights, the U.S. Bill of Rights enumerates the rights in the document. In the First Amendment, the right to petition the government is listed. The First Amendment also contains the rights of speech, peaceable assembly, and press. All of these rights are ways for the people to express their consent of how they are governed. In the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms is included.
The Mayflower Compact was a document to set up a government and write down the first set of lawsfor the settlers who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This document introduced the idea of selfgovernment.When this group of people left England, their goal was not to avoid having a government but to create a government that worked better for their goals. They wanted a government that relied on the consent of the governed, had fair and equal laws for all, and included a social contract. A social contract means that the people give their consent to being governed and the government protects the
people and make sure that laws are fair and equal for all. This document established one of America's first democratic governments.The Mayflower Compact influenced the colonists' ideas about the purpose of government through ideas that have been included in the U.S. Constitution. The idea of self-government is
reflected in the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution begins with the phrase: We the People. By beginning the U.S. Constitution in this way, the writers were making it clear that the people were creating and running the government. Influences from the Mayflower Compact are also in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1 states: No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This
amendment reflects the colonists' goal of having fair and equal laws for all.
During the French and Indian War, the English and the French fought over land located west of the colonies. The colonists supported the English and fought as part of their army. The English won the war, but the war left the English in debt and needing money. England looked to the colonies as a possible source of money, which led to a series of actions by King George III and the English Parliament (legislature) that upset the colonists. The king determined that one way to get rid of the debt was to tax the colonists. The
colonists did not have representation in the English Parliament. The king and Parliament passed a series of laws (acts) that impacted the colonists in a variety of ways. Some of the acts taxed the colonists on different goods and services and sent the money made from the
taxes to the English government. One of these laws was the Stamp Act, which taxed all printed materials, such as newspapers, legal documents and playing cards. Colonists viewed this act as unfair because the taxes went directly to the English government, and not into the colonial governments. In response to the Stamp Act, the colonists began to organize and speak out with their complaints (grievances) against the
king and Parliament for the tax. Colonists also sent a petition to King George III stating that only colonial legislatures can tax colonists and that taxation without representation went against the colonists' rights. The Parliament's response to this petition was to cancel the Stamp Act but it also passed other acts. Parliament ordered colonial legislatures to pay for English soldiers that were located in the colonies and they ordered colonists to house the soldiers and supply them with food. Parliament also began to tax other
items, such as tea, glass, lead and paints. In response, the colonists decided to boycott, or refuse to purchase, many of the taxed items and continued to speak out against the actions of the Parliament. Some of the acts went beyond taxing goods and services and impacted colonists in other ways. One example of this was the Coercive Acts, known by colonists as the Intolerable Acts. The Acts closed the port of Boston and did not allow for ships to get into the port to deliver goods. The Acts also ended some of the colonial governments. The relationship between England and the colonies continued to worsen as the Parliament would pass and implement laws in the colonies and the colonists would continue to oppose the Parliament's
actions. The colonists continued to oppose the laws by organizing, writing petitions and speaking out against the laws, but over time they began to respond to English actions in a violent way. Colonists began to form militias and fight back against English troops in the colonies.
While fighting between English and colonial troops increased, in January of 1776 Thomas Paine published Common Sense. This 50-page pamphlet criticized King George III and argued for the colonies to be independent from England. A few months later, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, which was formally supported by the colonial Congress on July 4, 1776.
The colonists' reasons for declaring independence can be summarized into three main themes: individual rights, taxation and representation. Individual rights are rights guaranteed to a person. Colonists believed that King George III and the Parliament limited the colonists' individual rights by the laws that they passed and their reactions to colonial grievances. Colonists believed that their rights were limited by being taxed on various goods and services while these taxes did not benefit the colonies. They also believed that their rights were limited because their interests were not represented in the Parliament and because their ability to govern in the colonies was taken away. The English taxed goods and services used by the colonists as a way to pay off the debt that resulted from the French and Indian War. Colonists believed this taxing was unfair because the tax money went directly to England, instead of the money returning to the colonies. The colonists also believed the taxes were unfair because the colonies were not represented in Parliament. Colonists believed that taxation without representation was wrong. Representation was another main concern, specifically colonists' views and opinions being represented in Parliament and the colonists' ability to represent themselves in colonial governments. Colonists were not represented
in Parliament and therefore their interests or opinions were not considered when laws were passed and other decisions made. Over time, the colonists' right to govern themselves was taken away when Parliament declared that the English had the highest authority to govern the colonies and when Parliament ended some colonial governments and put members of Parliament in charge.
The first government of the United States was
the Articles of Confederation. The colonists chose to create a confederation which is a state-centered, decentralized (no central power) government where the main powers of government were controlled by the states. To avoid a unitary system from forming in the new nation, the colonists decided to create a
confederal government that was very different. This new confederation would have a system of
government with no central power that would reflect the colonists' fear of a powerful national
government. Since the colonists were hoping to avoid a powerful national government and
leader, they included some very strict limits on the government that have been identified as weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. Below is a list of these weaknesses:
Congress had no power to tax: Congress could not collect money from the states to create and pay for an army and navy to defend the nation.
Congress had no power to regulate trade: Congress could not make laws about the types of goods coming into the country. As well, the states may have had different policies related to trade.
Congress had no power to enforce its own laws:
The laws that Congress passed had no real influence on the people because they were not being enforced, and therefore, did not have to be followed.
The national government lacked a national court system:There was not a set of national rules or national organizations that would determine how the laws should be applied. This means there was no judicial branch.
The national government lacked central leadership:There was no chief executive who could manage the national government. This means there was no executive branch.
Amendments to the Articles of Confederation required unanimous consent of the 13
state legislatures:Changing the government was very difficult. If one state legislature did not like a proposed change, it could vote against the amendment which would prevent change from
taking place even if the other 12 states agreed on the amendment.
Because the Articles of Confederation created a decentralized (no central power) system of
government, each state operated as an independent country in many ways. Each state was able to make trade agreements with other nations, each state established its own military, and each state made laws that its residents were expected to follow. The result of these actions was that the states were not operating as one nation and were, therefore, weak and could be
attacked by other countries. Adding to these concerns was Shays's Rebellion. Shays's Rebellion is the name given to an event where 2000 western Massachusetts farmers protested in county courthouses to prevent the government from taking their farm lands. The government of Massachusetts was threatening to take the land from these farmers because they had not paid their taxes and other debts (something owed, such as money) during the Revolutionary War, even though the government told them they did not have to pay those taxes. Because the government of Massachusetts had not held up their end of the bargain, the farmers revolted.
Shays's Rebellion made leaders within the national government examine the Articles of
Confederation a little more closely. In February of 1787, five states sent representatives to meet
in Annapolis, Maryland to determine what to do next. They decided to call for a meeting of all
13 states to meet in Philadelphia that summer with the main purpose of fixing the Articles of
Confederation. This meeting in Philadelphia would later be known as the Constitutional Convention, because this is where the U. S. Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation.
Article V (5) of the United States Constitution describes two methods for proposing
amendments and two methods for ratifying amendments. The Founding Fathers wanted to
make certain that there was a process in place so that the Constitution could remain a "living
document" that was able to change with the times if needed. There are two methods for proposing amendments to the Constitution.
1. Two-thirds (2/3) of both houses of Congress agree to propose the amendment
2. Two-thirds (2/3) of the states are represented and join in a national convention to vote
to propose the amendment.
Both of these methods require two-thirds, which is a "supermajority" (an amount that is more than half). This is important because an amendment to the Constitution would change the laws for the entire nation, and having a majority in support of that change is a part of the democratic processes of government. Once an amendment is added to the Constitution, laws that are found to be in conflict with the amendment might be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Once the amendment is proposed by either method described above, the amendment then has to be ratified (approved) by one of two specific methods, in order for the amendment to be added to the U.S. Constitution. There are two methods for ratifying proposed amendments:
1. Three-fourths (3/4) of the state legislatures vote to ratify the amendment.
2. Three-fourths (3/4) of the states are represented in a national ratifying convention to vote to ratify the amendment.
Article V (5) of the United States Constitution describes to the two methods for proposing
amendments and the two methods for ratifying amendments. The Founding Fathers
wanted to make certain that there was a process in place so that the Constitution could
remain a "living document" that was able to change with the times. The Founding Fathers intentionally created a process that is rather difficult - if the process were too simple, the Constitution would change far more often than it should. If the process were too rigid, the Constitution would be stuck in 1787, when the Constitution was written. The large percentage of votes needed to ratify amendments speaks to the difficulty of formally amending the U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds (2/3) of each house of Congress or the state legislatures is required to propose an amendment which means that only elected officials may vote to propose an amendment. And, getting a supermajority (more than 50%) of elected officials to agree to propose an amendment speaks to the difficulty of proposing amendments. Three-fourths (3/4) of the state legislatures must vote to ratify an amendment unless three-fourths (3/4) of the states join in a ratifying convention to vote to ratify an amendment. Either way, like proposing an amendment, ratifying an amendment requires a
supermajority of elected officials (or persons chosen by elected officials) to pass. Elected
officials know that they are being monitored by the media, individuals and interest groups when they vote on proposing and ratifying amendments. Keep in mind that once an amendment is added to the Constitution, it becomes a part of it. No federal law or state law can go against that amendment because it is the Constitution.
A constitution is a written plan for government. Within a constitution, the powers and
responsibilities of government are listed, the power of the government is limited and the
rights of the people are protected. The U.S. Constitution provides a framework (outline), for
how the government is going to work. In the United States, the Constitution creates three
branches of government - legislative, executive and judicial and defines the powers,
responsibilities and roles of each. The Constitution outlines the limitations of these three branches by creating a system of checks and balances, this guarantees that no one branch of government can become more powerful than another branch of government. An example of these limitations is that while Congress makes the laws, the president may decide to veto them and the Supreme Court may strike down the law if the Court considers an enacted law to be unconstitutional. Finally the Constitution protects to the rights of the people. This document guarantees that the rights of the people are protected no matter who is holding power. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to list the rights of the people and further explain the
limitations of the government. For example, the Third Amendment says that the government
cannot require that soldiers be quartered (provide a place to stay) in people's homes during
peacetime. This limits the power of the government by not allowing the government to
require that individuals provide shelter to soldiers.
After the U.S. Constitution was ratified (approved by the states), the states wrote or amended
their own state constitutions. Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The United
States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government". Because
the U.S. Constitution served as a guideline, many state constitutions look very similar to the
national constitution, including the Florida Constitution. The U.S. and Florida constitutions both have a preamble (an introduction that states the purpose and goals of government), articles
(sections that describe the powers and functions of the government) and amendments (changes
that have been made to the constitution over time). While the basic outline of the U.S.
Constitution and the Florida Constitution are the same, the contents of these documents are very
different. The Florida Constitution: Begins with "We the People" - shows that the state government gets its power from the citizens
• Longer than the U.S. Constitution
• 12 articles
• 80 pages
• Contains the Florida Declaration of Rights
(enumerated list of the rights for the people that
includes many of the same rights as those found
in the U.S. Bill of Rights)
• Written as a "living document" to be interpreted
and changed. There are many amendments to
the Florida Constitution that are very specific.
The Florida Constitution is a living document that
changes with the times.
• Addresses public education, motor vehicles, and
• Deals with day-to-day issues that impact state
At the state level, the amendment process is very different. Voters in the state must agree to
amend the Florida Constitution. Amendments are included on Election Day ballots. Voters vote
"yes" or "no" to proposed amendments. An amendment can only be added to the Florida
Constitution if 60% or more of those voting vote "yes". Proposing an amendment to the Florida Constitution can occur in one of many ways. These five ways include:
• Ballot Initiative Process - A set number of registered voters representing 8% of the votes
cast in the most recent presidential election must sign a petition supporting an amendment being placed on a future Election Day ballot.
• Constitutional Convention - A set number of registered voters representing 15% of the
votes cast in the most recent presidential election may call for a constitutional convention. Amendments may be proposed at the convention.
• Constitutional Revision Commission - The 37 member Constitutional Revision Committee meets every 20 years (the next meeting will take place in 2017) and proposes amendments to the state constitution.
• Legislative Joint Resolution - Three-fifths (60%) of each house of the Florida Legislature
can pass a joint resolution (decision) proposing an amendment to be placed on a future Election Day ballot.
• Taxation and Budget Reform Commission - The 22 member Taxation and Budget Reform Commission proposes amendments to the state constitution. This Commission last met in 2007 and will meet every 20th year (2027, 2047, etc.).
Rights of the accused are the rights of those accused of a crime. Search and seizure
occurs when police believe that a crime has been committed. Police conduct a search to seize (collect) evidence that may have to do with the crime. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure means that police must have a reason and in most cases a warrant from a judge to search a person's personal property, home or body that may include their car, home, locker, backpack or purse belonging to the accused person. Rights of those accused of a crime also include the right to due process of law. Due process means that one cannot have their life, liberty or property taken without appropriate legal procedures and protections. Pleading the Fifth, or protection against self-incrimination, means that those accused of crimes may refuse to testify against themselves in a court of law. Pleading the
Fifth prevents anything that a person may say to be used as evidence against them to convict them of a crime. Double jeopardy is also protected by the Bill of Rights. If evidence
is found after an accused person is found "not guilty" of a crime, that person cannot be
brought back to stand trial for the same crime. The right to legal counsel (lawyer) allows all
people accused of a crime to have legal representation in court. Trial by jury is an
additional right protected by the Bill of Rights. Protection of trial by jury means that a judge
and jury must decide the issue based on the facts and evidence of a criminal case. Further, persons accused of a crime are protected against cruel and unusual punishment which may include torture or other forms of punishment considered too harsh for the crime committed. The constitutionality of the death penalty has long been questioned as to whether it should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
The writers of the U.S. Constitution wanted to create a federal government that was
effective and powerful, but one that also safeguards the rights of individuals. The U.S.
Constitution establishes a system that protects the rights of individuals and in turn, limits the
powers of the federal government. The Bill of Rights lists many individual rights and
guarantees that the government will not interfere with these rights. Other individual rights
safeguarded in the U.S. Constitution are located in Article I, Section 9. These rights include
the writ of habeas corpus and ex post facto laws.
Although the Constitution safeguards rights, it is reasonable and fair to place limits on most
rights. This means that rights are not absolute and can be limited in certain situations. Over
the years, courts in the United States have developed various guidelines for limiting
individual rights. These guidelines are used to help decide when individual rights interfere
with other important rights and interests, including the rights of other individuals. Citizens
may not exercise their freedoms to the full extent that they might like because doing so
would threaten the common good. Federal and state laws, and U.S. Supreme Court
decisions, have all placed limitations on First Amendment freedoms in order to protect the
public interest. Rights and freedoms have been safeguarded because they are a
foundation of the system of government in the United States while they are also limited in
order to insure that the government is stable.
Freedom of expression includes the First Amendment rights of free speech, press,
assembly, and petition. The unlimited right to free expression may be dangerous to public safety, national security, or other important interests. If the danger is great enough, the courts have allowed freedom of expression to be limited. Also, some rights may be limited when they conflict with other rights or with other important values and interests. In situations where the rights of one citizen may conflict with the rights of other citizens, limitations to protect everyone's rights may be put into place. In the landmark case Schenck v. U.S.(1919), the Supreme Court set the precedent of the "balancing test." This balancing test focuses on the relationship between individual rights and the public interest. Rights may be limited when the public interest is threatened or at risk. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on different occasions that the government may be allowed to limit individual rights in order to protect the public interest. In these situations, there must be a balance of individual rights, the rights of others, and the common good. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government sometimes may be allowed to limit individual rights, specifically freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In general, there must be a balance of individual rights, the rights of others, and the common good.
Listed below are additional conditions used to limit freedom of speech and freedom of the
Clear and Present Danger - Will this act of speech create a dangerous situation?
Fighting Words - Will this act of speech create a violent situation?
Libel - Is this information false or does it put true information appear false?
Conflict with Government Interests - During times of war the government may limit acts of speech due to national security.
There are different types of law in the United States. The first type is civil law, a law concerned with private relations between members of a community rather than criminal, military, or religious affairs. Civil law deals with issues that are not related to crime. For example, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution secures the right for authors and inventors to claim their writings and discoveries as their own exclusive work for a limited time. During that period of time, if another person copies and claims the author or inventor's work as their own, they may be sued.
As a type of law, constitutional law defines the powers between states, deals with therelationship between the government and states, and between government and citizens. Criminal law deals with crimes and the punishments associated with those crimes. Persons who break state statutes will be tried by the state, if it is a federal offense persons may go to a federal prison if convicted. Civil and criminal law have the most effect on citizens. Juvenile law deals with the actions and wellbeing of persons who are not yet adults.
Juvenile law mainly deals with criminal law for people under the age of 18 because they do
not have the same obligations, responsibilities, or powers as adult citizens. Military law
consists of laws that have been developed to meet the needs of the military. Congress
created a set of criminal laws called the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that apply
to all military members. This code includes military trial and punishment with several
parallels to constitutional law.
Legal matters that arise involving the federal government or the U.S. Constitution are heard
by federal courts. The federal court system is outlined in Article III of the U.S. Constitution.
Article III gives Congress the power to establish courts lower than the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are three levels of federal courts: the lowest courts are called District Courts, the
second level of courts are called Appeals Courts and the highest court in the U.S. is called
the United States Supreme Court. Only certain cases are heard in federal courts and this is based on jurisdiction. Article III gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear eight different kinds of cases including:
o Cases involving the U.S. Constitution (Any case where a person believes that a constitutional right has been violated)
o Violations of federal law (Any case where the government accuses a person of a federal crime)
o Controversies between states (Cases where state governments have disagreements are settled in federal court)
o Disputes between parties of different states (Cases where citizens of different states have disagreements are settled in federal court)
o Lawsuits involving the federal government (Any case where the federal government sues any party, such as an individual or company, or is sued by any party)
o Cases involving foreign governments and treaties (Any case where there is a dispute between the federal government (or U.S. private party, such as an individual, company or organization) and a foreign government)
o Cases based on admiralty and maritime laws (Any case that concerns accidents or crimes on the high seas)
o Cases involving U.S. diplomats (Any case that concerns a U.S. diplomat working in a U.S. embassy overseas is heard in federal court)
Federal trials are held and lawsuits begin in U.S. District Courts. Each state has at least one
U.S. District Court and sometimes more within its borders. District courts have original jurisdiction, which means that certain cases must begin there. U.S. District courts are responsible for determining the facts of a case. They are the trial courts for both criminal and civil cases. District courts are the only courts at the federal level where witnesses testify, juries hear cases and verdicts are reached. Many people who lose their case in a U.S. District Court appeal to the next highest level, which is the U.S. Court of Appeals. These courts go by several names: U.S. Court of
Appeals, Appeals/Appellate Courts or Circuit Courts of Appeals. The responsibility of the
appeals court is to review the decisions made in a lower district court. Appeals courts have appellate jurisdiction, which mean they can review the rulings and decisions from lower courts if the people or groups involved believe the lower court acted unfairly. Appeals can occur if (1) the lower court judge applied the law incorrectly, (2) the lower court judge used the wrong procedure, (3) new evidence turns up or (4) rights were violated.
Most legal matters that arise within a state fall under the state court system. Jurisdiction
(the authority to hear a case) within state and federal courts is determined by the individual
constitutions. The U.S. Constitution determines jurisdiction for federal courts and the Florida
Constitution determines jurisdiction for state courts. Most states have a three-leveled system
similar to the federal court system, but in Florida there is a four-leveled court system. The lowest courts in Florida are the county courts, the second level contains the circuit courts, the next level of courts in Florida that deal with appeals are the Florida District Court of Appeals, and the highest court is the Florida Supreme Court. Below is a brief description and review of each level of the Florida courts.

County Courts: County courts handle misdemeanors or less serious crimes. These courts handle minor cases such as traffic violations, disturbing the peace, or civil cases involving sums of money less than $1,000. Municipal (city) courts are found in large cities and are divided into traffic, juvenile, and small claims courts. Small claims courts decide civil cases involving minor amounts of money. In small claims court there are two sides: (1) Plaintiffs (people filing lawsuits) and (2) Defendants (people being sued) who speak for themselves with no lawyers present.
Circuit Courts: More serious crimes (felonies) and civil cases involving large amounts of money (more than $1000) are heard at the second level. Circuit courts, sometimes referred to as general trial courts, hear cases where defendants are accused of felonies such as murder, armed
robbery, drug trafficking, and other major crimes. Trials in these courts may be held before a
jury. It is the judge's responsibility to make sure that the trial is handled fairly and lawfully.

District Court of Appeals: The third leveled court in Florida is the District Court of Appeals. This is an appellate court and it reviews decisions made by trial courts. No trials are heard in appellate courts and there are no juries present. Instead, panel of judges decides cases by a majority vote.

Florida Supreme Court: The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. It is the responsibility of this court to review the decisions of appellate courts and to supervise all Florida courts. It is also the Florida Supreme Court's responsibility to interpret the Florida Constitution. The Florida Supreme Court has seven justices. Florida Supreme Court justices review cases and make decisions that are final for the state, except for cases involving federal law or the U.S.Constitution. The U.S. Constitution has supremacy over all other laws.