“Crime” lacks a fully agreed definition across modern societies, but competing versions tend to stress notions like punishment, protection of public or collective interests, and a pervasive role for the state in proceedings. Over time the Romans used a series of different procedures (successively, trial before the assemblies, by specialized juries, or by imperial inquisitors) to try most of their offences that would be more or less recognizably criminal today. Substantively, the core of this group were offences against the state in an institutional sense (e.g., sedition, electoral malpractice, abuse of public office, forgery). Over time it also came to include an increasing number of (personal) crimes of violence. Some core modern criminal offences such as forms of theft and forgery of private documents came to be grouped in with these only at a very late date and incompletely. “Moral” offences that are treated as criminal more sporadically today (e.g., use of intoxicants, gambling, prostitution) were not criminalized. Penalties in earlier periods included fines, civic disgrace, and exile; later periods introduced finer differentiation of penalties, as well as execution. Imprisonment was not a formal penalty.
Andrew M. Riggsby
Lisa M. Holmes
The American judicial system is not a static, simple, or mechanical entity. Rather, it is a complex organization that is developed and staffed in response to changing caseload and societal pressures through a process that is inherently political. The key personnel who help the judiciary function bring varied backgrounds and perspectives with them that influence the work they do. As is the case with any political system, understanding American politics and policy making requires an understanding of the judiciary’s role in the American political system. In addition, on a daily basis, courts function to resolve disputes. While most cases have little direct impact on American policy or society broadly speaking, the resolution of these cases is important to those who turn to the courts of law to resolve their disputes.
Christina L. Boyd and Adam G. Rutkowski
Trial court judges are often referred to as the workhorses of the judicial system. This is unsurprising given that millions of civil and criminal cases are filed and resolved in U.S. state and federal trial courts each year. Very few of these cases ever reach appellate courts, meaning that trial courts are often the first and only court with which people directly interact. At the same time, trial courts can make local and national policy, both in individual cases and in the aggregate. This important role of trial courts and their actors has not gone unnoticed by scholars across social science disciplines. One can consider trial courts in a broad sense by tracking the historical developments that led to the trial courts in the United States. As caseloads have increased, trial courts—particularly those with specialized jurisdictions—have been created out of necessity. State trial courts feature variation in their judicial selection methods, including elections and appointments. At the federal level, increased polarization has led to contentious partisan confirmation battles for federal trial court judges. Trials are a rare occurrence, with plea agreements and settlements being the most frequent methods of resolving cases. To understand trial court actor behavior, it is important to remember that state and federal trial courts sit at the bottom of their judicial hierarchies. The preferences of their hierarchical superiors, along with the presence of high trial court caseloads and the rarity of trials, rein in judges’ discretion and the potential effects of their personal characteristics and attitudes. Because of these judge constraints, actors such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and juries play a significant role in trial court outcomes. As the literature reveals, the “repeat players” in trial courts hold significant advantages over less experienced litigants and attorneys that affect their likelihood of gaining favorable outcomes, among other things. Race and gender of these actors can have significant effects on behavior in certain types of cases. There are many hurdles that remain for scholars seeking to study trial courts. For example, state trial courts, in particular, continue to be difficult to study empirically. This is due largely to a lack of data availability. Relatedly, scholars must continue to strive to find ways to study trial court outcomes and events that do not lead to published opinions—for example settlements, plea bargains, prosecutorial declinations, and many decided motions. Each of these involves important decisions and outcomes that affect parties and may be affected by judges and lawyers.
Despite political interference and jurisdictional partiality, the formal institutions of international criminal justice are positive development for global governance in their existence alone. The unique aims for global justice enunciated in the Preamble to the Rome Statute are a manifesto for how humanity expects to be protected from atrocity, and where responsibility should lie. As the example of rape in war demonstrates, translating these noble aspirations into trial practice and justice outcomes is often sullied by discriminatory externalities common in domestic criminal justice and exacerbated as the degree of victimization escalates. The lasting measure of the courts and tribunals is not successful prosecutions but rather the satisfaction of legitimate victim interests.