FEDERAL PRACTICE -The Law Center for Civil and Criminal Justice
The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitution, the foundation of the federal government of the United States. The Constitution sets out the boundaries of federal law, which consists of acts of Congress, treaties ratified by the Senate, regulations promulgated by the executive branch and case law originating from the federal judiciary. The United States Code is the official compilation and codification of general and permanent federal statutory law.
Federal law and treaties, so long as they are in accordance with the Constitution, as well as the Constitution itself, preempt conflicting state and territorial laws in the 50 U.S. states and in the territories. However, the scope of federal preemption is limited because the scope of federal power is not universal.
The law of criminal procedure in the United States consists of a massive overlay of federal constitutional case law interwoven with the federal and state statutes that actually provide the foundation for the creation and operation of law enforcement agencies and prison systems as well as the proceedings in criminal trials. Due to the failure of legislatures in the U.S. to enact statutes that would force law enforcement officers to respect the constitutional rights of criminal suspects and convicts, the federal judiciary gradually developed the exclusionary rule as a method to enforce such rights. In turn, the exclusionary rule spawned a family of judge-made remedies for the abuse of law enforcement powers, of which the most famous is the Miranda warning. The writ of habeas corpus is often used by suspects and convicts to challenge their detention, while the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and Bivens actions are used by suspects to recover tort damages for police brutality.
Generally, American civil procedure has several notable features, including extensive pretrial discovery, heavy reliance on live testimony obtained at deposition or elicited in front of a jury, and aggressive pretrial "law and motion" practice designed to result in a pretrial disposition (that is, summary judgment) or a settlement. U.S. courts pioneered the concept of the opt-out class action, by which the burden falls on class members to notify the court that they do not wish to be bound by the judgment, as opposed to opt-in class actions, where class members must join into the class. Another unique feature is the so-called American Rule under which parties generally bear their own attorneys' fees (as opposed to the English Rule of "loser pays"), though American legislators and courts have carved out numerous exceptions.