Law is a system of rules that governs people’s behavior in a society or government. It includes laws about crime, business agreements and social relationships.
Law serves four principal purposes: it establishes standards, maintains order, resolves disputes and protects liberties and rights. It is a complex and varied subject, with many sub-disciplines.
Criminal law deals with offenses against individuals, such as murder or theft, and is governed by state governments. Civil law deals with disputes between citizens, including contracts and torts.
Courts can decide cases by themselves or can be combined with other courts, known as concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means that a plaintiff can bring a case in any state or federal court that has the legal authority to hear it.
Jurisdiction – The geographic area over which a court has the legal authority to decide a case. It is usually limited to the state in which it was filed, although there are some exceptions for issues involving interstate commerce and certain civil rights claims.
Case law – The collection of precedents established by previous judicial decisions. It differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it is typically binding on lower courts if they follow it.
Evidence – The materials that may be used in a trial and on appeals, including witnesses, documents and physical evidence.
Complaint – A written statement by the plaintiff stating that the defendant has committed wrongs. It often is the basis of a lawsuit.
Counterclaim – A claim by the defendant against the plaintiff that can be used to attack or defeat the original lawsuit.