A system of rules and principles governing human relationships, often organized in codes. It serves many purposes, including keeping the peace, maintaining order, preserving property, protecting minorities against majorities and promoting social justice. Some legal systems are more effective at achieving these goals than others.
Law is often divided into several subfields, including criminal law, tort law, civil rights, contracts, and administrative law. Law also encompasses the field of jurisprudence, which is the study of the structure and philosophy of the legal system.
A judge is a judicial officer with authority to decide lawsuits brought before the court. Judges are generally sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws of their country, and they must consider all the evidence presented in a case before deciding whether or not to impose a sentence.
Precedent – A decision in an earlier case with facts and law similar to a dispute currently before the court. Courts are bound by precedent unless they can show that it was wrongly decided or that the case has significantly different facts or issues.
Plea – A statement in a trial by a defendant that does not admit guilt but, rather, shows the defense is not guilty of the crime charged against them. Typically, pleas of nolo contendere are not used in criminal cases.
Jury – A group of people selected through random selection from voter registration banks and then sworn to inquire into a case and to decide its merits. In the United States, juries must consist of at least six people in civil suits and twelve for criminal cases. The judge in a case usually gives jury instructions, which describe the law that applies to the particular fact situation in the case being tried.