Fact Checked

What is a Court of Law?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

Many governments, such as the one in the United States, are divided into branches. A legislative branch is part responsible for making laws. Once those laws are created, the judicial branch determines what they mean, whether they have been broken, and what punishments should be issued when they are broken. A court of law is the place where most judicial activity takes place.

Courts of law can generally be described as society’s decision makers. Most cases brought before a court involve at least two parties: there is usually a plaintiff, the party that brings a complaint, and a defendant, the party that needs to defend itself against the complaint. The matters being disputed can be either criminal or civil.

Cases in a court of law are decided by a judge or jury.
Cases in a court of law are decided by a judge or jury.

In some instances, a judge or a magistrate hears cases and makes a decision, which is commonly referred to as a ruling. In other instances, a body of individuals from the community is chosen to compose a jury. The jury is then given the task of hearing the case and making a decision. A "court of law" is called so because a judge or jury does not simply make decisions pertaining to a case based on what they believe to be best or what they want to happen. Their decisions must be based on the law.

A courthouse.
A courthouse.

In some instances, such as with a supreme court, it is the duty of the officials to interpret the law. Such a court may find that a law itself is unconstitutional and needs to be removed. Although these officials did not write the law, it may decide that its wording gives it a meaning that differs from the intentions of the people who did write it.

The US Supreme Court interprets the law.
The US Supreme Court interprets the law.

When it is determined in a court of law that an individual has committed an illegal act, the court has the authority to issue a punishment. In some instances, the law dictates the minimum or maximum punishments that can be imposed. When a punishment, which is commonly referred to as a sentence in criminal cases, is issued, it is generally binding unless it is overturned by way of an appeal. An appeal is a process which allows one court to change the decision of a lower one.

Courts are usually limited by some type of jurisdiction, which means they only have the power to hear and decide cases that fit certain criteria. A bankruptcy court, for example, can only hear cases pertaining to bankruptcy. Beyond that, the officials have no authority over legal matters. A general district court of law usually has the ability to hear a wide range of cases; however, its jurisdiction is limited to the district in which the court sits.

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Discussion Comments


Sunny27-Sometimes a judge might rule against a parent and file a contempt of court family law action.

This often happens when a parent does not report to a court hearing regarding custodial rights. Usually there has to be a second hearing when this happens.

Many times these cases also involve child support for the custodial parent. The custodial parent has to hire a child support lawyer to file in family court to get the proceeding started.


SauteePan-I can answer that for you. No contest is used when a defendant admits that there is overwhelming evidence against him or her.

It can impose the same punishment as a guilty plea, but because you pleaded no contest, you might avoid a trial. This plea is used often in traffic court.

In order to reduce the case load, judges will offer the defendants this option and if they choose the no contest plea their fines would be reduced for the traffic infraction.

In addition, in some cases if this was the only traffic offense in a period of five years, then there is no adverse effect to your driving record.


What does no content mean in a court of law?

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    • Cases in a court of law are decided by a judge or jury.
      By: Andrey Burmakin
      Cases in a court of law are decided by a judge or jury.
    • A courthouse.
      By: SVLuma
      A courthouse.
    • The US Supreme Court interprets the law.
      By: trekandshoot
      The US Supreme Court interprets the law.