federal trial court, civil law system, common law system, associate justices, juries
The judicial branch consists of a supreme court, superior and district courts, and, at the lowest level, justices of the peace. The governor appoints judges with the consent of the Senate. Puerto Rico’s highest tribunal, the Supreme Court, includes a chief justice and six associate justices, who serve until the age of 70. Appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States are allowed from Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court. The U.S. Federal District Court in San Juan serves as the federal trial court for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s laws are based on the Spanish, as well as on the American, legal system. Civil and commercial codes are fashioned after Spanish law, which is known as civil law. Civil law is a code of statutes passed by the government. Judges in the civil law system administer the code but do not interpret it. (Generally there are no juries in civil law trials.) Criminal, procedural, and public (including constitutional) law are fashioned after U.S. law, which is referred to as common law. Common law is based on custom and precedent, which means that decisions in court cases themselves become the basis for future interpretations of the law. Judges in the common law system interpret the law based on common usage, past social traditions, and precedents set by previous court decisions.
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