Sample essay on legal principles and authorities

– Describe the differences between a trial court and a court of appeals and discuss when a court opinion is considered to be precedent.
The main purpose of the trial court is to adjudicate a decision in the first instance on all disputes filled in a given court system – state or federal. Judges who work in a trial court decide cases alone, conducting trials either with or without jury, depending on the type of a dispute and the wishes of the parties. A judge in the trial court hears the evidence, determines the facts of the case and applies law to the determined facts. Deciding the facts of the case is one of the most important functions of the trial courts as the facts cannot be reconsidered on appeal.
The main task of the court of appeals, on the other hand, is to ensure that the mistakes of the trial court are corrected. A party can always file an appeal to the court of appeals after the case has been decided by the trial court. Court of appeals does not have jury and usually consists of the panel of three judges who review the cases decided by the trial courts. The appellate court, in most cases, will not review the factual basis of the dispute established by the trial court, but will review any issue of law in order to reverse possible errors.
The decisions of the superior court are precedential for all lower courts within the same court system (vertical stare decisis). Previous decisions of the court may also be precedential for the same court in later cases –horizontal stare decisis (Burnham, 2006).
2. Discuss the jurisdictional differences between a state court of appeals and a state supreme court.
Unlike court of appeals, state supreme courts have a broad function of overseeing the development of the law within the jurisdiction. Supreme courts decide cases only when there is a need to clarify the law on a particular question or when the case presents a significant interest for the public. Thus, the ordinary cases in the state court system must be decided by the court of appeals only once. In order to select “ unusual” cases, the system of discretionary review was established. According to this system, the case will be heard in the supreme court of the state only when the party is “ granted leave to appeal” or a writ of certiorari is obtained (Burnham, 2006)
– Discuss the differences between mandatory and persuasive authority.
Mandatory authority is the binding authority that is issued directly by a governmental body. Such authority includes primary sources of law like constitution, cases, statutes, regulations, rulings of administrative agencies, etc. Whether a particular authority is mandatory or not depends on the source of that authority in the given jurisdiction. Generally, a principle of stare decisis is applied by which lower courts are bound by the decisions of the higher courts.
Persuasive authority has a non-binding effect and the use of such authority is not mandatory but discretional with the court. The court may use the decision of the court from other jurisdiction in order to support its own reasoning in the case under review. Most likely, the judge will chose the particular persuasive authority based on the similarity of facts and the legal issues raised in both cases.


– Burnham, William. Introduction to the Law and Legal System of the United States. St. Paul, Minn: West Pub. Co, 2006. Print.