Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Court System of Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico had a distinct legal system to that of American legal system till the American solders landed in 1898 . The Puerto Rico’s structure including civil law rules, institutions, procedures and legal culture were undergone important transformation. There is a change in the civil law jurisdiction to the civil law-mixed law and other areas such as legal structures, processes, culture and actors. This paper examines the current legal system of the Puerto Rico and critically examines 3 states (Virginia Islands, Hawaii and New Jersey) court structures.

It also provides the proposal for the court structure of Puerto Rico on par with these 3 states. Brief introduction of Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States. The President is USA is the chief of state and elected Governor. It has control over the internal affairs and without the interference of the USA. The major differences between Puerto Rico and the 50 states include exemption from some aspects of the Internal Revenue Code, its lack of voting representation in either house of the U.

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S congress (Senate and House of Representatives), the ineligibility of Puerto Ricans to vote in presidential elections, and its lack of assignation of some revenue reserved for the states. Judicial system in Puerto Rica is directed by Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is comprised of 7 judges (a chief justice and 6 associate justices) named by the Governor. The structure of Judicial System includes a Court of Appeals, Superior Court, a District Court (Civil & Criminal), and Municipal Court. There are 12 judicial districts.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rica also has a district court comparable to those of the state of US. Each district court has a least one district judge and can have more than a score of district judges, as well as a clerk, a United States Attorney, a United States Marshall, one or more United States Magistrates, bankruptcy judges, probation officers, court reporters, and their staff. The federal government, located in San Juan, is represented by 2 district judges and the procurator, who is named by the President of the United States. The Federal court has final authority of the ELA.

Distinctive features of the American Judicial System includes the adversary system, the common law system, predefined rules for conducting litigation, reporting of judicial proceedings and the publication of court opinions. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. The appeal courts take the appeals from the district courts located in the circuit and also from the federal administrative agencies.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal judiciary . The judicial system of Puerto Rico is based upon Spanish Law upon which is based the on United States judicial system. The Puerto Rico legal court system includes a district court, a superior court, an appellate court and the Puerto Rico Supreme Court as apex court. Decisions of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court can be appealed to the Federal Court for Puerto Rico and to the U. S. Supreme Court as a lost resort. Hawaii state judicial system features appellate courts and trial courts.

Appellate courts include the Hawaii Supreme Court and the Intermediate Court of Appeals and the trial courts include the Circuit, Family and District courts and functions four judicial districts. The judicial system of Virginia Islands consists of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the General District Courts and the Circuit Courts . The structure of New Jersey's court system is very simple featuring Municipal courts, Tax Court, state Superior Court, which includes the trial courts, an Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court.

All the above mentioned court systems such as Hawaii, Virginia islands and New Jersey has different set of court structures . Except in the criminal and constitutional fields, Puerto Rico’s legal system substantially remained that of the Spanish civil law . Puerto Rico state’s highest court: The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico is the highest court of the Puerto Rico, which is analogous to one of the U. S state supreme courts established in San Juan. The ultimate judicial authority lies within Puerto Rico for interpretation and deciding on the question of local commonwealth law.

The Constitution and the laws of Puerto Rico determine the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and works similar way to the state Supreme Courts in the United States. It has concurrent jurisdiction to interpret federal laws, unless the Supremacy Clause requires otherwise. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico used the common law to resolve the private-law issues and later drifted to methodical research integrating the civil law into the civilian context . Comparison of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico with the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and New Jersey’s Supreme Courts.

The Supreme Court of Hawaii hears appeals for writs of certiorari to the Intermediate Court of Appeals and applications for transfer from the Intermediate Court of Appeals. It also hears reserved questions of law from the circuit courts, the land court, and the tax appeal court, certified question from the federal courts, applications for writs, complaints on elections and it makes rules of practice and procedures for all state courts, licenses, regulates and disciplines attorneys and judges. The New Jersey Supreme Court composed of a chief justice and six associate justices.

It takes up the appeals from the lower courts involving capital cases and cases in which a panel of appellate judges has disagreed. It also hears the cases of great public importance. The Superior Court has broad jurisdiction in addressing the legal needs of the Virgin Islands community. The Court hears all local trial matters including civil, criminal, family, probate, landlord-tenant, small claims and traffic. It also acts as a court of appeals for decisions of all governmental officers and agencies . Puerto Rico’s Appellate Courts: U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is the appellate court for the District of Puerto Rico.

The Circuit Court of Appeals established in 1994 sits in San Juan and it is the intermediary level between the courts of first instance and the Supreme Court. With the consent of senate 33 justices were named by the Governor for the Circuit Court of Appeals. Most sittings are held in Boston, but the court sits for two weeks each year in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and occasionally at other locations within the circuit. First Circuit is the smallest of the thirteen United States courts of appeals Composition of U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is five active (six authorized) and four senior judges. Juan R.

Torruella is the chief judge of the Puerto Rico duty station appointed by the Reagan. The established procedure for the eligibility of the Chief Judge is that he must be below the age of 65, serving court actively at least one year and have not served as a Chief Judge earlier. The appellate courts for the other states in comparison are U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for Hawaii. U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for Virgin Islands and U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for New Jersey. The Hawaii appellate courts are comprised of the Supreme Court and the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

The Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii hears all appeals from trial courts and state agencies in the State of Hawaii composed of 6 judges. It is having discretionary powers to hear cases without prior suit in civil cases or cases in circuit court or the tax appeal court and also when the parties agreed upon the facts of the controversy. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for Virgin Islands composed of 14 active judges. The chief judge should have the same eligibility criteria as if the Puerto Rico has. U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for New Jersey is composed of 14 active judges.

Puerto Rico’s Municipal Courts Municipal courts have the jurisdiction to hear minor civil and less serious criminal cases with in the region under the powers conferred by the constitution and the other law . Puerto Rico’s municipal judges, serving for five years, and justices of the peace, in rural areas, decide cases involving local ordinances. Municipal Courts of New Jersey usually has jurisdiction to take cases such as motor vehicle and parking tickets, minor criminal-type offenses, municipal ordinance offenses and other offenses including fish and game violations.

Municipal Court judges are usually appointed by the Mayor of the municipality, with the advice and consent of the council, and serve a term of three years and eligibility set by the statute and he should have 5 years of practice experience. The Municipal Court of the Virgin Islands’ was named as the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands and having jurisdiction over all civil actions and criminal matters. Territorial court is now changed to superior court by means of Bill No. 25-0213. Hawaii does not have Municipal Courts.

County and local ordinance and traffic violations are tried in state circuit and district courts. Puerto Rico’s Major Trial Courts: The nine superior courts are the Puerto Rico’s Major trial courts. The term of the superior court judges is 12-years. The superior courts were divided into 13 districts in 2003 and have original jurisdiction of not exceeding $10,000 in civil cases and also in minor criminal cases. District courts also hear preliminary motions in more serious criminal cases . The Hawaii trial courts include the Circuit, Family and District courts.

The courts are structured geographically: Puerto Rico constitutes one judicial district and held at Mayaguez, Ponce and San Juan according to United States Code Title 28, Part I, Chapter 5, Sec. 119. The Hawaii appellate courts are comprised of the Supreme Court and the Intermediate Court of Appeals. The trial courts include the Circuit, Family and District courts. The Virginia's court structure has District Court, at the lowest level, to the Supreme Court at the highest level. The Circuit Courts is at the second lowest level, and the Court of Appeals at the next level.

The Chief Justice and the Supreme Court will function as the administrative body for the entire Virginia court system. Structure of New Jersey's court system is the simplest in among all the court structures. Municipal courts, Tax Court, state Superior Court, which includes the trial courts, an Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court are the basic type of the courts. Judges appointment: Justices for The Supreme Court, The Appellate Court, The Court of First Instance (composing of Superior Court and Municipal Court) appointed by the Governor of Puerto Rico with the consent (majority vote) of the Senate and retires at the age of 70.

The Circuit Court of Appeals includes 33 justices. Justices and judges in US are appointed under the Article III of the constitution by the president of the US with the majority vote of senate for life time . Judicial and Attorney ethical standards The Code of Conduct for United States Judges According to the code of conduct duties of judge are 1. Upholding the integrity and independence of the judiciary. 2. Avoiding impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. 3. Performing the duties of the office impartially and diligently. 4.

Carrying out extrajudicial activities for improving the legal system and the administration of justice. 5. Regulating extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties. 6. Regularly filing reports of compensation received for law-related and extra-judicial activities. 7. Refraining from political activity . Attorney ethical standards 28 C. F. R. PART 77—ETHICAL STANDARDS FOR ATTORNEYS FOR THE GOVERNMENT The Department of Justice makes sure that its attorneys perform their duties in accordance with the highest ethical standards through implementing 28 U. S. C.

530B and guide attorneys concerning the guidelines imposed on Department attorneys by 28 U. S. C. 530B. Conclusion: The Puerto Rico courts and legal structure had under gone a drastic transformation under the U. S rule. Now it has its own court structure with some limitations. In spite of very simple court system the New Jersey's legal system is effective. Two step appellate review process in Virginia court system is also a good for the better scrutiny of the case . The courts systems of Hawaii, Virginia Islands and New Jersey have a good court structure and can be ideal for the court structure of Puerto Rico.

Reference: 1. Carlos R. Soltero, (2006) Latinos and American law: landmark Supreme Court cases, University of Texas Press. 2. William Miller, (2006), Evolving Internet reference resources, Haworth Press. 3. Virginia Courts". Virginia Judicial System. 2008. Retrieved on 2008-03-04. http://www. courts. state. va. us/courts/courts. html 4. State Court Caseload Statistics, 2003, Retrieved from http://www. ncsconline. org/D_Research/csp/2003_Files/2003_SCCS_Charts1. pdf 5. Juan R. Torruella, (1985), The Supreme Court and Puerto Rico: The Doctrine of Separate and Unequal, Editorial UPR.

6. Vernon V. Palmer, (2001), Mixed jurisdictions worldwide: the third legal family, Cambridge University Press. 7. SUPERIOR COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, Division of St. Thomas/St. John, Retrieved on April 2, 2009, http://www. visuperiorcourt. org/ 8. Timothy F. Fautsko, (2003), Workload assessment model for the Puerto Rico municipal court, Retrived on April,2. http://contentdm. ncsconline. org/cgi-bin/showfile. exe? CISOROOT=/spcts&CISOPTR=105 98. Puerto Rico - Judicial system, (2007), Advameg, Inc. Retrieved on April 2, 2009, http://www. city-data.

com/states/Puerto-Rico-Judicial-system. html 10. Leonidas Ralph Mecham, The Federal Court System, in the United States, Retrieved from http://www. uscourts. gov/library/internationalbook-fedcts2. pdf 11. Leonidas Ralph Mecham, The Federal court system in the United States, Retrieved form http://www. uscourts. gov/library/internationalbook-fedcts2. pdf 12. Order No. 2216–99, 64 FR 19275, Apr. 20, 1999. 13. Marie Wayson (2008), Virginia Court System: Function and Purpose, Retived on April 2, 2009, http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/724285/virginia_court_system_function_and. html

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