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Course Planning by Program


Essential Objectives

Course Syllabus

Revision Date: 19-Feb-24

Summer 2024 | CRJ-2020-VO01 - American Judicial Process

Online Class

Online courses take place 100% online via Canvas, without required in-person or Zoom meetings.

Location: Online
Credits: 3 (45 hours)
Day/Times: Meets online
Semester Dates: 05-20-2024 to 08-12-2024
Last day to drop without a grade: 06-10-2024 - Refund Policy
Last day to withdraw (W grade): 07-08-2024 - Refund Policy
Open Seats: 15 (as of 02-22-24 8:15 PM)


Anne Buttimer
View Faculty Credentials
View Faculty Statement
Hiring Coordinator for this course: Philip Crossman

General Education Requirements

This section meets the following CCV General Education Requirement(s) for the current catalog year:
VSCS Social Sciences
  1. Many degree programs have specific general education recommendations. In order to avoid taking unnecessary classes, please consult with additional resources like your program evaluation, your academic program catalog year page, and your academic advisor.
  2. Courses may only be used to meet one General Education Requirement.

Course Description

This course provides students with an overview of the American judicial process, examining its history, structure, and operation. Topics considered include court organization and administration, the courtroom work group, the trial and appellate processes, problems that plague the courts, and alternatives to courts for conflict resolution. Prerequisite: Introduction to Criminal Justice.

Essential Objectives

1. Describe the history and structure of the federal and state courts.
2. Discuss the role and functions of special courts and appellate courts.
3. Evaluate the constitutional protections in criminal law and their effects on criminal courts.
4. Contrast the adversary law system with civil law systems.
5. Assess the professional and ethical obligations of prosecutors and judges, the role of defense attorneys, and the functions of other court personnel.
6. Discuss the role of judges in the courtroom and beyond and their role in balancing the rights of victims and defendants.
7. Evaluate current trends in sentencing and their impact on incarceration disparities, including mandatory minimums and three-strikes legislation at federal and state levels.
8. Analyze the use of bail and plea-bargaining in the criminal justice system.
9. Outline the evolution of the juvenile justice system.
10. Explore how inequities within the American judicial system both reflect and impact societal disparities of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.

Required Technology

More information on general computer and internet recommendations is available on the CCV IT Support page. https://support.ccv.edu/general/computer-recommendations/

Please see CCV's Digital Equity Statement (pg. 45) to learn more about CCV's commitment to supporting all students access the technology they need to successfully finish their courses.

Required Textbooks and Resources

*** This is a no cost textbook or resource class. ***

This course only uses free Open Educational Resources (OER) and/or library materials. For details, see the Canvas Site for this class.


Learning Methods

This is a discussion focused course where students and faculty interact via written postings in Canvas several times during the week. This is essential on your part for your learning.

Evaluation Criteria

How to Answer Discussion Questions – use college level writing skills. If your week 1 essay indicates that you don’t yet have the skills to be successful, I’ll recommend that you work with the writing mentor at CCV’s Learning Center Online Live (LCOL). Contact information is at the LCOL tile in the portal. Your work each week is graded according to the grading rubric in week 1.

Do not copy/paste material from our book or any research source as your answer or part of it. That’s plagiarism and a violation of CCV’s Academic Honesty Policy, see below. Our book takes the form of a basic outline of topics, from there students further explore by working with our CCV librarians and me. The library’s link is on our course screen left and in the portal at the Library tile.


Using APA in-text citations and a References section in all work, weeks 2-10 - any sources you use, be that our book, sources you find working with a librarian, or sources you find yourself (they must be authoritative, meaning reliable; check with me first) must be cited using APA citation format. Here’s our Vermont State College’s Library’s pages about citations. We use APA because our class is a social science. https://libraries.vsc.edu/research/integrating-citing

Grading Criteria

CCV Letter Grades as outlined in the Evaluation System Policy are assigned according to the following chart:

A Less than 9893
A-Less than 9390
B+Less than 9088
B Less than 8883
B-Less than 8380
C+Less than 8078
C Less than 7873
C-Less than 7370
D+Less than 7068
D Less than 6863
D-Less than 6360
FLess than 60 
NPLess than 600

Weekly Schedule

Week/ModuleTopic  Readings  Assignments


This is the weekly schedule for weeks 1-12.

*Week 1 Begins Tuesday 5/21 Ends Monday 5/27 – Introductions

Syllabus Reading: Read the course syllabus and related documents in the top of screen area of class. You are responsible for knowing and following all the information there.

Textbook: As noted at the start of our syllabus we'll use select chapters from a free, open-source textbook published by OpenStax at Rice University in Texas. To give you needed context for our study of courts you must understand that courts are one of three branches of government, this is true in our federal government and in each of the 50 state governments in our country. This week read Chapter 11 Congress https://openstax.org/books/american-government-3e/pages/11-introduction

Links to an external site. and Chapter 12 The Presidency https://openstax.org/books/american-government-3e/pages/12-introduction

Online Reading: We start our semester by studying our nation's federal courts and using our digital textbook. I give you links to each week's readings in the book. In the second part of the course we study Vermont's court system, and consider justice reform issues. We’ll use the Vermont Judiciary website extensively, bookmark it now. https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/

Discussion: Write a 350-400 word essay in which you discuss your education and career plans and goals, to include CCV, any college you plan to attend after CCV (or that you’ve already attended) and your professional working world plans. Discuss how you see your study of the material in this course assisting in each stage of your education and work. An answer of this length should be two to four correctly written paragraphs. Here are directions about how to write paragraphs. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/paragraphs_and_paragraphing/index.html Links to an external site.

This is due by 6 pm VT time. Same due times each week. Put the assignment due times in your phone or calendar now, set alerts, and set reminders for enough time in advance to complete your work before it's due.

THEN - answer any questions I ask you by 11 pm Sat. VT time. Note - these directions apply for the rest of the semester even when not specifically given.

*Week 2 Begins Tuesday 5/28 Ends Monday 6/3- Overview of our nation's courts

Read: In our digital textbook read Chapter 13 The Courts https://openstax.org/books/american-government-3e/pages/13-introduction

sections 13.1 (Guardians of the Constitution and Individual Rights) and 13.2 (The Dual Court System).

Also, read and bookmark the Key Terms section for use the rest of the semester. https://openstax.org/books/american-government-3e/pages/13-key-terms

Discussion: Answer each of these questions using college level writing skills. Each answer should be 100-110 words long. Number your answers, do not type the questions into your answer. Post all answers together.

1.Explain one positive and one negative aspect of the lifetime term of office for judges and justices in the federal court system. Why do you believe the Constitution’s framers chose lifetime terms?

2. What do you find most significant about having a common law system?

3.The existence of the dual court system is an unnecessary duplication to some but beneficial to others. Provide at least one positive and one negative characteristic of having overlapping court systems in the United States.

4. Which court would you consider to be closest to the people? Why? Which court is most removed from the people, and why?

THEN - answer any questions I ask you, all by 11 pm Sat. VT time. Note - these directions apply for the rest of the semester even when not specifically given.

*Week 3 Begins Tuesday 6/4 Ends Monday6/10 - The Federal Courts and the US Supreme Court

Read: We're still in chapter 13. https://openstax.org/books/american-government-3e/pages/13-3-the-federal-court-system

Read section 13.3 (The Federal Court System) and section 13.4 (The Supreme Court)

Discussion: Answer each of these questions using college level writing skills. Each answer should be 100-110 words long. Number your answers, do not type the questions into your answer. Post all answers together.

1. Do you believe federal judges should be elected rather than appointed? Why or why not?

2. When it comes to filling judicial positions in the federal courts, do you believe race, gender, religion, and ethnicity should matter? Why or why not?

3.What do the appointments of the Supreme Court’s three newest justices, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett reveal about the changing selection process for the high court?

4. What are the core factors that determine how judges decide court cases?

THEN – follow the directions from week 2 for this week and the rest of the semester.

*Week 4 Begins Tuesday 6/11 Ends Monday 6/17 - How the US Supreme Court Makes Decisions

Read: Section 13.5 (Judicial Decision-Making and Implementation by the Supreme Court) https://openstax.org/books/american-government-3e/pages/13-5-judicial-decision-making-and-implementation-by-the-supreme-court

Discussion: Answer each of these questions using college level writing skills. Each answer should be 100-110 words long. Number your answers, do not type the questions into your answer. Post all answers together.

1. Discuss some of the difficulties involved in the implementation and enforcement of judicial decisions.

2. In what ways is the court system better suited to protect the individual than are the elected branches of the government?

3. On what types of policy issues do you expect the judicial branch to be especially powerful, and on which do you expect it to exert less power?

*Week 5 Begins Tuesday6/18 Ends Monday 6/24 - Summary of functioning of our federal courts

Read: Fully review chapter 13 using the links above.

Discussion: Answer each of these questions using college level writing skills. Each answer should be 125-150 words long. Number your answers, do not type the questions into your answer. Post all answers together.

1. Discuss the relationship of the judicial branch to the other branches of government. In what ways is the judicial more powerful than other branches? In what ways is SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) less powerful than other branches? Explain.

2. What should be the most important considerations when filling judge and justice positions at the federal level? Why?

3.The shirking of jury duty is a real problem in the United States. Give some reasons for this and suggest what can be done about it. What would be your response if called for jury duty? Have you ever been called? What was the experience like?

4. Take a closer look at some of the operational norms of the Supreme Court, such as the Rule of Four or the prohibition on cameras in the courtroom. What is your opinion about them as long-standing traditions, and which (if any), do you believe should be changed? Explain your answer.

*Week 6 Begins Tuesday 6/25 Ends Monday 7/1 - We begin our study of Vermont’s state court system

Online Reading: At the Vermont Judiciary website homepage https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/ look underneath the white search box for several light blue icons on a white background. Find the Court Divisions icon and click it, read the material there, and then click on each of the green links below about the seven (7) divisions of state courts in Vermont. Be sure to click the greenish/blue box/link that appears because there’s a lot more information there.

Then go back to the screen with the light blue icons and look left to where it says Find A Court and locate the courthouse or courthouses in your county. Vermont has 14 counties. Each county has a Vermont Superior Court: Civil Division; a Vermont Superior Court: Criminal Division; a Vermont Superior Court: Family Division; and a Probate Court. The Vermont Judicial Bureau (traffic court and other civil violation matters such as underage drinking violations and fish and game violations) travels around the state to hold court in each county. Vermont Superior Court: Environmental Division also travels around the state to hold court in each county as needed. The Vermont Supreme Court is one court and has its courthouse in Montpelier, just to the right of the Vermont Statehouse.

In some counties all the courts are in the same building. In some counties Civil Division, Probate Court, and Small Claims Court, which is a sub-unit of Civil Division are in one courthouse in one town in the county while Criminal Division and Family Division are in another courthouse in another town. This is just how courthouses developed over the decades and centuries of our state’s history.

Discussion: Write a 350-400-word essay in which you use college level writing skills. Pick any three (3) of the seven (7) courts and explain what types of cases that court hears, how judges are selected, whether or not there is a jury, and where, in the county you live in, those courthouses are found (street address and town/city). Create a new paragraph for each court and use a bolded heading with the court's correct name, eg. Vermont Superior Court: Civil Division.

*Week 7 Begins Tuesday 7/2 Ends Monday 7/8 - Vermont's state courts cont.

Read: This is the second part of learning about Vermont’s state courts. The reading assignment is the same as it was last week, there’s enough information that having two weeks to read it will benefit you. At the Vermont Judiciary website homepage https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/ look underneath the white search box for several light blue icons on a white background.

Discussion: Refer to week 6 and follow the same instructions generally, and specifically, pick the four (4) courts you didn’t write about last week (out of the seven (7) courts Vermont has) and explain what types of cases that court hears, how judges are selected, whether or not there is a jury, and where, in the county you live in, those courthouses are found (street address and town/city).

*Week 8 Begins Tuesday 7/9 Ends Monday 7/15 - Juries in Vermont's courts

Read: This is the history of Vermont's state courts. https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/sites/default/files/documents/History_VT_Judiciary.pdf

Read: At the Vermont Judiciary website homepage https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/ look below the white search box for the box/link Jurors and click it open. Read what’s at the main page. Look screen right for boxes/links. Skip Jury Questionnaire as you need a pass # /badge # to access it, if you’d been contacted about jury duty, you’d have been given this number by the court clerk. Everything at the Jury Services link/box and open and read all links you find as you work your way through that link.

Come back to the main jury page and click the link/box labelled Jury Orientation in Vermont. This is an 18 min. video on YouTube by Vermont Supreme Court Justice Harold Eaton, watch it.

Discussion: Write a 350-400-word essay where you select the county where you live or work or go to college, your choice, and explain 1) the county you selected and the street address of the courthouse; 2) whether you want to write about civil or criminal court (your choice); 3) the duties you’ll fulfill if selected for jury service, and the expectations of you in serving, and what you can expect as part of the process and experience. What do you have to be able to do to effectively be a juror? What would disqualify you from being a juror in Vermont?

*Week 9 Begins Tuesday7/16 Ends Monday 7/22 - Putting yourself in the role of a 'pro se' litigant, meaning someone without a lawyer representing themself.

Read: At the Vermont Judiciary website homepage https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/ look below the white search box for the box/link Self Help and click it open. These pages are for anyone planning to represent themselves in a civil, criminal, family, probate, environmental, judicial bureau, or even Vermont Supreme Court case. You’ll find boxes/links at the right side and lower part of the screen. Open and read all, you’ll be re-directed to outside websites for some organizations such as the Vermont Bar Association for their lawyer referral service, and to Vermont Legal Aid and Vermont Legal Services. This combined site has a lot of helpful information, it will take time to read it all so be sure to give yourself enough time.

Discussion: Write a 350-400-word where you put yourself in one (1) of these roles below and explain how you would prepare to represent yourself in court using these resources, and what other options to self-representation you have. Note the Latin phrase for appearing in court by one’s self without an attorney is called proceeding pro se. Here are your options for types of cases, begin your answer by stating which one you’re using. What types of evidence will you offer the court, both physical and in the form of testimony from witnesses? What do you have to prove, or disprove, to win your case?

If you're unsure how to proceed from here please email me no later than 12 noon on Thursday to ask your specific questions so I can guide you.

1) You are being sued in Vermont Superior Court: Civil Division in a breach (breaking) of contract case where the amount in dispute is $25,000.

2) You have been arrested for burglarizing your neighbor’s home and stealing $15,000 worth of electronics.

3) Your partner is suing you for divorce and custody of the two children you share and is seeking child support.

4) Your aunt (never married, no children) died and named you as executor of her Will (capitalized because it’s the proper name of a document), you were aware of this and agreed to do it. Now your three siblings are contesting the Will in probate court because your aunt left you $50,000, and each of them only $30,000.

5) You own a small family ski area in Vermont that the State is alleging has been polluting a nearby stream and river with runoff from the skiing operations. The case is heard in Environmental Court.

6) You were stopped by a Vermont police officer on Interstate 89 for doing 20 miles an hour over the speed limit (speed limit is posted at 65 mph, officer says you were doing 85) in your 2009 Honda Civic Coupe. You know you weren’t going that fast because the car’s engine was partly blown and the car wouldn't do more than 55 miles an hour.

7) You rent a small house from Jose' Landlord under a one year written lease for monthly rent of $1,500. The lease calls for Jose' to provide as part of your rent, snow plowing and shoveling and sanding/salting. He never once did so last winter despite plenty of snow and ice storms. You had to hire a plowing service and pay yourself, and buy and spread sand/salt. You kept receipts from all that total $450. You're suing him to recover this amount.

There is no example for the Vermont Supreme Court.

*Week 10 Begins Tuesday 7/23 Ends Monday 7/30 - mock presentation about the Vermont Judiciary

Read: 1) Guide to the Vermont Judiciary


Download this and read it this week.

2) Guide to the Vermont Constitution

The Guide to Vermont Judiciary mentions the Vermont Constitution in several places so you need that document to refer to. Here's the link.


Download this and read it this week.

Discussion: Write a 350-400-word essay where put yourself in the role of law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court who’s assigned you to give a 20 minute briefing to newly elected Vermont legislators about the Vermont Judiciary.

*Your job in this briefing is to explain the points that will be most importantto explain to these public officials.

*Write one short paragraph for each of Vermont's seven courts, use the court's full name, the primary subject matter jurisdiction of the court, and how judges are selected for that court. Be sure to include Small Claims Court as a unit of the larger court it belongs too, and include how side/assistant judges are selected. Do not repeat information if it applies to more than one court, such as the justice and judge selection process that applies to several courts.

*If you're stuck on this question draft some ideas and email me early in the week and no later than 12 noon Thursday so we can talk it through via email or if you prefer, via a Zoom session. Don't guess, don't wait until late in the week because this answer will take longer than you think it will. It's about taking what you've learned about Vermont's court system, prioritizing that information, and writing the summary.

*Use this format of bolded headings in this order to give your answer organization.

"Good morning, Vermont legislators. I'm Anne Buttimer, Chief Justice Reiber's law clerk. Our presentation will provide you a basic overview of Vermont's state court system. [Use your name instead of mine, and pick a Justice other than CJ Reiber.]

Vermont Supreme Court- xxxx

Vermont Superior Court: Civil Division - xxxx

Vermont Superior Court: Criminal Division - xxxx

Vermont Superior Court: Family Division - xxxx

Vermont Superior Court: Environmental Division - xxxx

Vermont Superior Court: Probate Division - xxxx

Vermont Judicial Bureau - xxxx

*Week 11 Begins Tuesday7/30 Ends Monday8/5 - Criminal legal system reform - two documentaries

View and Read: This week you’ll view two online documentaries: 1) True Justice about the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and its founder and director, attorney Bryan Stevenson. Also read the EJI website. Note: there’s a lot of information at the site, give yourself plenty of time to read it all. Bookmark it for future use. https://eji.org/projects/true-justice/


2) 13th by director Ava DuVernay about mass incarceration in the United States. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfcq5pF8u8

Links to an external site. A black and grey play button

Description automatically generated

Discussion - Write a 175 -200 word answer of two paragraphs about each documentary. Clearly title each answer, and post both answers in the same posting.Here are your questions: write about any aspect of attorney Stevenson’s, and the EJI’s work. Explain why you viewed those issues and or cases as especially important and discuss how this week’s video and website readings have affected and influenced you. THEN, write about your response and reaction to Ms. DuVernay's film. What moved you, what distressed you, how will you use your career in criminal justice to change the current, sad reality in our nation that this film exposes.

*Week 12 Begins Tuesday 8/6 Ends Monday 8/12 - TED Talks to conclude our semester

The primary goal of your work this week and next is to assess if students are able to use the critical thinking skill called issue spotting which means being able to understand what something is about (TED Talks) that relate directly to topics we studied over the semester. If you think of this as a final exam-type assessment of your learning and skills you're accurate.

Discussion: TED Talks Week! - go to:

Links to an external site. and find the tab at top of screen Discover. First item is Topics. At Topics scroll to C and open topics for Crime or Criminal Justice OR at Topics scroll to A and open topics for Addiction OR at Topics scroll to B and open topics for Brain (make sure they have a CJ connection) at Topics scroll to E for Education or scroll to F for Forensics or scroll to G for Guns OR J for Justice System or L for Law OR N for Narcotics OR T for Trafficking or V for Violence OR P for Poverty. From all the Talks at these many Topics select any two (2) Talks (only two) and watch each one, then complete the format below for each Talk and post in class all in one posting.

The thesis of a Talk is one-to-two sentence(s) that concisely state what the author seeks to prove in giving the Talk. The summary of Talk is 200-250 words that state what the Talk is about. The two are different. Be sure you understand what a thesis statement is and then craft your thesis statement for each Talk. If you need to work with Tutor.com on this please do so.

Use this exact formatting for your Talks, all made in one posting.

My TED Talks

Full Title of Talk:

Author’s Name:

Thesis of Talk: Not sure how to do this? http://guidetogrammar.org/grammar/composition/thesis.htm Read all of it, and focus on the short paragraph just above the yellow box, and the contents of the yellow box. One to two sentence limit for this section.

Summary of Talk: 200-250 limit for this section. That means a minimum of 200 words and a maximum of 250 words.

How Does This Talk Relate to our Class Readings, Discussion, and Learning? This should include a focused explanation of the week, topics, chapters and section numbers from our book, website(s) from our class that relate to your Talk, and our justice reform videos. Be specific and detailed. 200-250 word limit for this section. That means a minimum of 200 words and a maximum of 250 words.

Link to Talk:

Use same format in one posting for Talk 2.

END of course


Attendance Policy

Regular attendance and participation in classes are essential for success in and are completion requirements for courses at CCV. A student's failure to meet attendance requirements as specified in course descriptions will normally result in a non-satisfactory grade.

  • In general, missing more than 20% of a course due to absences, lateness or early departures may jeopardize a student's ability to earn a satisfactory final grade.
  • Attending an on-ground or synchronous course means a student appeared in the live classroom for at least a meaningful portion of a given class meeting. Attending an online course means a student posted a discussion forum response, completed a quiz or attempted some other academically required activity. Simply viewing a course item or module does not count as attendance.
  • Meeting the minimum attendance requirement for a course does not mean a student has satisfied the academic requirements for participation, which require students to go above and beyond simply attending a portion of the class. Faculty members will individually determine what constitutes participation in each course they teach and explain in their course descriptions how participation factors into a student's final grade.

Participation Expectations

Here's the schedule by day for each week all semester.

Tuesday: per CCV’s schedule the new week starts.

Friday: post your Discussion answer by 6 pm VT time. Use college level writing skills (see Grading & Writing Rubric in week 1 in Canvas). I will grade your work for the whole week when you post your discussion answer. You still need to answer any follow-up questions I ask you (see Saturday just below). Your grade is awarded based on my good faith belief that you'll answer anything I ask you no later than 11 pm Saturday. Be sure to read my reply to you in class and my Canvas grade book comments to you as soon as I make them. Canvas is set to send your CCV email a message that there are comments there for you to read, this should also remind you to read my posting to you in class. Even if you don’t get the email notice, go to class to read my comments and go to the grade book comments. If you omit answering my questions by 11 pm Saturday, I deduct 25 points from your discussion grade because your discussion work for the week is incomplete.

Saturday: Answer any follow-up questions I ask you no later than 11 pm Saturday VT time. Please do not post anything after 11 pm Saturday because everyone deserves to know that the week is complete so they can read all posts and know they’ve read them all.

Sunday and Monday:By mid-morning Sunday I’ll have made my final posts in class, then use either day to finish reading all postings in class.

Missing & Late Work Policy

*Work posted past the due time of 6 pm VT time Friday incurs a 10 point per hour or any segment thereof points deduction.

* Not answering my follow up questions to you is a 25 point deduction because your discussion work is incomplete.

Accessibility Services for Students with Disabilities:

CCV strives to mitigate barriers to course access for students with documented disabilities. To request accommodations, please
  1. Provide disability documentation to the Accessibility Coordinator at your academic center. https://ccv.edu/discover-resources/students-with-disabilities/
  2. Request an appointment to meet with accessibility coordinator to discuss your request and create an accommodation plan.
  3. Once created, students will share the accommodation plan with faculty. Please note, faculty cannot make disability accommodations outside of this process.

Academic Integrity

CCV has a commitment to honesty and excellence in academic work and expects the same from all students. Academic dishonesty, or cheating, can occur whenever you present -as your own work- something that you did not do. You can also be guilty of cheating if you help someone else cheat. Being unaware of what constitutes academic dishonesty (such as knowing what plagiarism is) does not absolve a student of the responsibility to be honest in his/her academic work. Academic dishonesty is taken very seriously and may lead to dismissal from the College.