Learning Objectives 65

Courts 66

Dispute Categories 66

The Organization of Courts 68

Participants in Court Processes 70

The Flow of Litigation 77

Criminal Cases 77

Civil Cases 79

Legislatures 79

The Functions of Legislatures 79

The Organization of Legislatures 80

Participants in the Legislative Process 81

Administrative Agencies 84

The Organization of Administrative Agencies 85

The Administrative Process 86

Law Enforcement Agencies 87

The Organization of Law Enforcement Agencies 89

Police Discretion 91

Summary 93

Key Terms 93

Suggested Readings 94

References 94


  • Explain the differences that repeat players enjoy in the courts
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of juries in the civil and criminal courts
  • Describe the involvement of lobbyists and interest groups in the legislative process
  • List examples of how administrative agencies affect Americans' everyday lives
  • Explain why there is a thin line between police discretion and discrimination by the police based on race and ethnicity, social class, and other traits

Nowadays, one way or another, more than ever before, law touches all of us. The contact may be pleasant or unpleasant, tangible or intangible, direct or indirect, but law is nonetheless a constant force and presence in our lives. For a sociological understanding of law in society, we need to know about the social organization of law, the types of social arrangements and relations involved in the legal process, and the social characteristics of people who interpret and administer the law. This chapter examines the social organization of legal systems in the framework of the judicial, legislative, administrative, and enforcement agencies that carry out the official (and, at times, the unofficial) business of law.

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