The bustling state of Florida is home to approximately 20 million inhabitants, whom are permanent residents. As residents within this state, citizens are mandated by not only by the U.S. Constitution, but also by the State Constitution. During the time at which our original federal constitution was crafted, the founding fathers realized the importance of protecting smaller gatherings of people, within the overall nation. Powers were then divided within this document in order to grant state’s rights that would still fall under the oversight of the national government. These reserved powers are supplemented by the enumerated powers of congress, such that in the event of a war or outbreak of unruly violence, the federal government would have all the necessary legal tools to bring that state back into compliance (Constitution, 2014). With this in mind, the State of Florida will be presented within this report, as a case study for facilitating the understanding of how state court systems are divided and how they function within the scope of the applicable state constitution and the national federal constitution.
Florida’s State Constitution
Prior to assessing Florida’s judicial/court system, it is necessary to gain a minimum level of understanding, regarding the content of this document. Subsequently, the state’s constitution endured it’s most extensive revision in 1968, and has been amended ever since, to accommodate they evolving mindset and composition of the state. The document begins with a preamble, which sets the foundation of what the entire legal document is about (Constitution, 2014). Rights of the people are declared, followed by any provisions that may exempt certain cases from falling under the instructions within this document. Much like the U.S. Constitution, the articles within this document create a; Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branch. It is this aspect of the constitution that allows the government of Florida to build its judicial/court system, finance it, and execute/enforce the decisions that are made within the scope of the courts.
Florida’s Court System
Per the Florida State constitution Articles III-V, one will find that the court system in intertwined between the actions and oversight of additional branches of government. While Article V is specific to the Judiciary, much like the federal system, checks and balances exist to ensure that one or more separate bodies vet the actions of one branch. The major bodies of the court are broken down into the following sections; County Courts, Circuit Courts, District Courts of Appeal, and the supreme court. Civil and criminal cases will fall under the jurisdiction in which the even has occurred and/or where the applicable entity has been licensed and/or conduct businesses. In retrospect one will see that most cases that fall under the county courts are; Misdemeanors, Small claims, civil, and traffic violation. The circuit courts will take care of all; Felonies, Family law civil cases, probate/mental health issues, juvenile dependency, and appeals from the county court. If the case cannot be concluded in one of these lower courts the district courts will assess the following scenarios for all manners that are not appealable directly to the Supreme court and for final actions of state agencies.
Finally, the Florida state supreme court will assess all questions that have been determined to be matters of the actual constitution, cases that may decide that the defendant faces “capital punishment”, public utility cases, and bond validations (Constitution, 2014). If one has a case in court it is best for him/her to maneuver through the court system, until the desired result has been achieved. This will not necessarily mean that one should try to bring their case to the Supreme Court as any decision made at this point may not be appealed. In addition, when maneuvering through the court system, it is best to utilize census data, and historical data to determine which county or district the case will likely “thrive” in. Since some counties are friendlier towards businesses and others towards people, businesspersons are often highly selective in which court will handle the matters of their affairs. Laypersons are not likely to have this information or guidance to determine which area is best for their case to be heard. However, a well-trained team of counsel should have all the necessary information to interact with the applicable court body, in which the case falls.
Historical Cases within the Florida Court System
Some historical cases that demonstrate how Florida’s court system actually performs are observed throughout history. One major case that essentially decided the presidential election of 2004 is the Bush V. Gore case. Although this case did make its way to the Supreme Court the issue was initially brought in front of a medium-sized county court in West Palm beach. This case serves, as an effective model because it shows how cases within the Florida court system are maneuvered within the state and at times may have to fall under the jurisdiction of a larger federal body. The case began after unanimous decision, during the Bush V. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. It was at this time that presidential incumbent candidate George Bush determined that the methods used to quantify the votes within this district were not compliant with the law. Due to the fact that the incident is alleged to occur in this county, the case must start here. A ruling was determined that no alternative method could be utilized to count the executed ballots within this district. Although, the decision was final, the pursuant decided that this was not an effective judgment. The case was therefore brought up to higher courts and eventually made its way, in expedited fashion, to the Florida State Supreme court. Due to the fact that this issue was related to a national event it was not difficult for lawyers to bring the case outside of the Florida System, due to the unfavorable ruling.
Reshaping Florida’s Court
As is with most state courts, policy is constantly evolving to generate a system that is more favorable to one or more bodies of people. An example of this is the recent Amendment 3 to the Florida State’s Constitution. During the previous electoral cycle (2014), this amendment was placed on the ballot and some believed that it was devious in its nature. Although the states constitution separates the executive, legislative, and judicial (court) branch, this amendment would allow the executive to have greater influence on the judicial branch. In addition, it would circumvent many of the desires of the legislative branch, as this representative will face intense political pressure and may simply cave per the request of the Governor. What this amendment does is to allow the governor to have the ability to fill three (3) of Florida’s seven judicial seats. This may not be an effective way to select judges, as it is not likely that the Governor will select individual’s that will serve the best interest of the people and not him/herself. Strategy often alludes to the executive “packing” the court system with judges that are likely to rule in his or her favor, as a means to circumvent the system.
In summary, the court of Florida is constructed almost identically as the federal court system. In addition, cases are maneuvered through the court in a “fringe” fashion where risks are taken as to which district will be best for initiating a proceeding. Unfortunately, the legal system itself is highly vague and this allows robust lawyers and politicians to manipulate the system as they see fit. Amendments to the state’s constitution should always undergo thorough vetting in order to determine their true nature. Florida serves as an ideal case model of State Court systems due to the fact that it mimics the federal system. The high-level cases that have occurred within this state also have set precedent for court systems nationwide.