How to brief a case

How to brief a case

Student Brief

A student brief is a short summary and analysis of the case prepared for use in classroom discussion.

It is a set of notes, presented in a systematic way, in order to sort out the parties, identify the issues, ascertain what was decided, and analyze the reasoning behind decisions made by the courts.

Civil law vs. Criminal law

Some preliminary stuff

criminal wrong – reckless driving

civil wrong – negligence

different legal consequences under criminal and civil law

CRIMINAL LAW CIVIL LAW
prosecuted by the police for reckless driving in the criminal courts -state is the “victim” sued by the victim for negligence in the civil courts -injured party is the victim

Civil law vs. Criminal law

CIVIL LAW

CRIMINAL LAW

is concerned with disputes between individuals

action is taken by the aggrieved party

CLAIMANT vs DEFENDANT

(PLAINTIFF, PETITIONER)

eg. marital dispute, hire-purchase problems, trespass, negligence etc.

is concerned with wrongs committed against an individual but regarded as harmful to society as a whole

action is taken against the wrong-doer in the name of society

STATE vs DEFENDANT

eg. stealing, robbery, murder, rape, embezzlement, arson etc.

Civil law vs. Criminal law – different procedure; different outcome; different terminology

Civil proceedings

Criminal proceedings

A plaintiff sues (brings an action against) a defendant = a lawsuit

judgement for the plaintiff (if the proceedings are successful)

remedy – damages, injunction, specific performance …

liable # not liable – defendant liable on the Preponderance of the Evidence

a prosecutor prosecutes (brings a case against) a defendant = criminal prosecution in the name of the state

a verdict – a decision of a jury

conviction (if prosecution successful) or acquittal

a sentence – the punishment given by a judge based on the verdict

defendant punished by a variety of punishments (imprisonment, fine, probation, community work etc.)

guilty # not guilty

– BURDEN OF PROOF – defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

THE PARTIES AND HOW TO KEEP TRACK OF THEM

The losing party in a criminal prosecution or a civil action may ask a higher (appellate) court to review the case on the ground that the trial court judge made a mistake.

If the law gives the loser the right to a higher court review, his or her lawyers may appeal.

If the loser does not have this right, his or her lawyers may ask the court for a writ of certiorari.

Under this procedure, the appellate court is being asked to exercise its lawful discretion in granting the cases a hearing for review.

THE PARTIES AND HOW TO KEEP TRACK OF THEM

For example, a defendant convicted in a federal district court has the right to appeal this decision in the Court of Appeals of the circuit and this court cannot refuse to hear it. The party losing in this appellate court can request that the case be reviewed by the Supreme Court, but, unless certain special circumstances apply, has no right to a hearing.

These two procedures, appeals and petitions for certiorari, are sometimes loosely grouped together as “appeals.” However, there is, as shown, a difference between them.

THE PARTIES AND HOW TO KEEP TRACK OF THEM

A person who seeks a writ of certiorari, that is, a ruling by a higher court that it hear the case, is known as a petitioner. The person who must respond to the petition, that is, the winner in the lower court, is called the respondent.

A person who files a formal appeal demanding appellate review as a matter of right is known as the appellant. His or her opponent is the appellee.

THE PARTIES AND HOW TO KEEP TRACK OF THEM

The name of the party initiating the action in court, at any level on the judicial ladder, always appears first in the legal papers.

In criminal cases, switches in the titles of cases are common, because most reach the appellate courts as a result of an appeal by a convicted defendant. Thus, the case of Arizona v. Miranda later became Miranda v. Arizona

STUDENT BRIEFS (Required parts)

1. Title and Citation

The title of the case shows who is opposing whom. (Smith v. State) The name of the person who initiated legal action in that particular court will always appear first.

Since the losers often appeal to a higher court, this can get confusing.

The citation tells you a lot about the case.

For example:

1 U.S. 231 or

904 N.E.2d 1274 (Ind. 1999)

STUDENT BRIEFS

2. FACTS OF THE CASE

The fact section of a good student brief will include the following elements:

A paragraph or two description of the nature of the case, to serve as an introduction.

A statement of the relevant law, with quotation marks or underlining to draw attention to the key words or phrases that are in dispute.

A summary of the complaint (in a civil case) or the indictment (in a criminal case) plus relevant evidence and arguments presented in court to explain who did what to whom and why the case was thought to involve illegal conduct.

A summary of actions taken by the lower courts, for example: defendant convicted; conviction upheld by appellate court; Supreme Court granted certiorari.

STUDENT BRIEFS

3. Issues

Constitutional cases frequently involve multiple issues, some of interest only to litigants and lawyers, others of broader and enduring significant to citizens and officials alike. Be sure you have included both.*

With rare exceptions, the outcome of an appellate case will turn on the meaning of a provision of the Constitution, a law, or a judicial doctrine. Capture that provision or debated point in your restatement of the issue. Set it off with quotation marks or underline it. This will help you later when you try to reconcile conflicting cases.

When noting issues, it may help to phrase them in terms of questions that can be answered with a precise “yes” or “no.”

*If one if this issues is minor, such as “attorney fees” you may disregard it for this class.

STUDENT BRIEFS

For example, the famous case of Brown v. Board of Education involved the applicability of a provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to a school board’s practice of excluding black pupils from certain public schools solely due to their race. The precise wording of the Amendment is “no state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

You would begin by identifying the key phrases from this amendment and deciding which of them were really at issue in this case. Assuming that there was no doubt that the school board was acting as the State, and that Miss Brown was a “person within its jurisdiction,” then the key issue would be

“Does the exclusion of students from a public school solely on the basis of race amount to a denial of ‘equal protection of the laws’?”

Of course the implications of this case went far beyond the situation of Miss Brown, the Topeka School Board, or even public education. They cast doubt on the continuing validity of prior decisions in which the Supreme Court had held that restriction of Black Americans to “separate but equal” facilities did not deny them “equal protection of the laws.” Make note of any such implications in your statement at the end of the brief, in which you set out your observations and comments.

Remember too, that the same case may be used by instructors for different purposes, so part of the challenge of briefing is to identify those issues in the case which are of central importance to the topic under discussion in class.

STUDENT BRIEFS

4. Decision/Holding

The decision, or holding, is the court’s answer to a question presented to it for answer by the parties involved or raised by the court itself in its own reading of the case.

If the issues have been drawn precisely, the holdings can be stated in simple “yes” or “no” answers or in short statements taken from the language used by the court.

STUDENT BRIEFS

5. Reasoning/Rationale

The reasoning, or rationale, is the chain of arguments which led the judges in either a majority or a dissenting opinion to rule as they did.

This should be the “why” the court ruled they way it did.

STUDENT BRIEFS

6 Separate Opinions*

Both concurring and dissenting opinions should be subjected to the same depth of analysis to bring out the major points of agreement or disagreement with the majority opinion.

Make a note of how each justice voted and how they lined up. Knowledge of how judges of a particular court normally line up on particular issues is essential to anticipating how they will vote in future cases involving similar issues.

*Please note dissenting opinions, but for our class, unless otherwise noted they will not need the same level of treatment given the majority opinion.

STUDENT BRIEFS

7. Analysis/Your Ideas

Here the student should evaluate the significance of the case, its relationship to other cases, its place in history, and what is shows about the Court, its members, its decision-making processes, or the impact it has on litigants, government, or society. It is here that the implicit assumptions and values of the Justices should be probed, the “rightness” of the decision debated, and the logic of the reasoning considered.

THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD SPEND YOUR TIME BECAUSE THIS IS WHERE YOU EARN YOUR POINTS!!!

Your Case Must Have:

Citation

Facts

Issue/s

Decision (Holding)

Reasoning or Rationale of the Court

Separate or Dissenting Opinions

Your thoughts

These sections of your brief should be titled as such.


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