Federal courts are tasked with deciding all of the civil and criminal cases on the federal docket. This is a huge number of cases, and it would be chaotic if there were not guidelines supervising the decision of these cases. Thus, federal courts have adopted certain rules to guide cases, ensuring that each case is handled effectively. In the end, a familiarity with the federal rules of court is valuable to victims and advocates, because it gives them an expectation of what will happen in federal court.
First, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure guide criminal trials in federal trial courts, including federal district courts and federal magistrate courts.
Because the vast majority of sexual violence cases in Indian Country fall under federal criminal jurisdiction, chances are that, if the sexual violence goes to trial, it will happen in federal court. An advocate, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, law enforcement officer, or other official involved in aiding the victim most often comes into contact with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when they are called to be expert or fact witnesses during the perpetrator’s criminal trial or before the federal grand jury. Furthermore, the victim is also likely to come into contact with these rules as a witness, because victims are not responsible for prosecuting the perpetrator and proving the facts of the sexual violence. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure address the administration of federal criminal cases from the very beginning. These Rules address the defendant’s first interaction with the criminal justice system, through the grand jury indictment, and the defendant’s first appearance before the court, during the arraignment. The Rules dictate the proper location for criminal proceedings, and the Rules also guide a defendant’s preparation for trial, outlining the appropriate process and timing for pre-trial motions, pre-trial discovery, and pre-trial depositions. The Rule also carry significance at trial, because they address the process and procedure for determining whether the defendant’s trial is held before a jury, for deciding the size of the jury, for filing a motion for mistrial, for instructing the jury, and the correct process, procedure, and timing for many other events that happen at trial. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure also dictate the correct process for sentencing. Each individual district court may adopt supplemental rules governing the correct criminal procedure in that district.
Just as the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure determine the process and procedure
of a criminal trial, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure guide the administration of civil court proceedings. A victim is most likely to come into interaction with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when she files a lawsuit against the perpetrator in federal court. Whereas the victim does not have to prove the elements of a crime during a criminal trial, a victim must prove the elements of her claim against the perpetrator in a civil trial. An advocate, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, law enforcement officer, or other official involved in aiding the victim most often comes into contact with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when they are called to be expert or fact witnesses during a civil trial. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure address the requirements for filing a civil lawsuit in federal court. This includes a discussion as to the appropriate venue or forum for a lawsuit, a discussion of what types of matters the court has jurisdiction over, the rules to determine whether the victim should file a lawsuit in federal or tribal court, and an outline of the requirements for filing a written complaint. It is important to remember that Federal court is likely not the best forum to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators, because the jurisdictional rules in federal court are very strict. The Rules further address correct way to serve the suit upon the parties, the correct way to file a response to the complaint, and the correct way to file a motion for summary judgment. Just as the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure guide the discovery process of criminal case, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the discovery process in civil trials. The Rules outline the correct way to file interrogatories, the correct way to conduct discovery, and the correct way to lobby allegations of discovery violations. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also touch upon the trial itself, guiding the correct process for requesting a jury, the correct process for choosing a jury, the correct process for serving a witness with a subpoena, and many other events that occur during a jury trial. Each individual district court may adopt supplemental rules governing the correct civil court procedure in that district.
Finally, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure apply to both civil and criminal cases after the trial is over. Although there are witnesses, evidence, other facts, and new arguments presented in the trial court, a party is stuck with the trial record, including the facts established and arguments made in the trial court, upon appeal. Therefore, neither the victim, nor any other witness, is allowed to testify upon appeal, because federal appellate courts cannot hear new evidence. Instead, appellate arguments are mainly focused upon legalities of the trial, where one party alleges that the trial court made the wrong decision as a matter of law. Currently, there are thirteen federal courts of appeals and the United States Supreme Court, which hear appeals from federal trial courts. Each court of appeals has adopted its own variation upon the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Thus, before filing an appeal, it is wise to consult the rules governing the court in which you are filing an appeal. The main
method for making arguments upon appeal is brief writing. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure guide the appeals process, outlining the proper length, method, content, and process for brief writing. Even the color of the paper the brief is printed on is significant in appellate courts. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure also outline the proper way to engage in oral argument, a unique event where counsel for each of the parties is allowed to present their arguments before a panel of judges.
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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy (www.swclap.org) This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.