Part I: Types Of Law
The resolution of disputes in the courts is governed by constitutional, statutory, common law and court rules.
1. Constitutional Law:
Constitutional law is found in the constitutions of the State of Maine and the United States. The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and its provisions must be followed at every level of government in America. The U.S. Constitution sets up the structure of the federal government and guarantees the citizens of each state a representative form of government. The Maine Constitution sets up the structure of our state government, with its bicameral (two-Chambered) legislature, its governor, and its judiciary.
The federal and Maine constitutions are important sources of rights as well. They guarantee freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. Each constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, involuntary self-incrimination, and cruel and unusual punishments.
Each constitution guarantees due process of law, as well as equal protection of the laws. Daniel Webster described due process as the result of a judicial system that "hears before it condemns, proceeds upon inquiry, and renders judgment only after a trial." In modern times the rights to due process and equal protection have become extremely important. They protect citizens against the passage of laws that are arbitrary, unreasonable, unreasonably discriminatory, or beyond the reach of government. The due process clause also ensures that citizens receive timely notice when they are subject to most judicial proceedings and guarantees them a fair opportunity to be heard in cases that affect their personal or property interests.
2. Statutory Law:
Statutory law is passed by a legislative body. Congress passes federal statutes; the Maine Legislature passes state statutes, which are published online and in bound form as the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated (M.R.S.A.). Statutory law covers many subjects and must be consistent with the Constitution.
3. Common Law:
Common law is developed by courts to cover situations where statutory law does not apply or exist. The common law, which also must be consistent with the Constitution, consists of principles and rules developed, sometimes over centuries, in prior court decisions called precedents. Courts generally follow the precedents established in earlier cases involving similar facts.
4. Court Rules:
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court publishes rules governing the filing, processing, trial and appeal of all civil and criminal matters that come before the courts. These rules governing civil, criminal, and probate procedure, family matters, small claims, evidence, and appeals are available on the Judicial Branch website (see court rules) and in book form at county law libraries.
Maine's town and city offices and most public libraries have sets of the Maine statutes. An uncertified version of the Maine Revised Statutes is maintained on the Internet by the Maine Legislature. In addition, the Judicial Branch maintains a law library for the use of judges, attorneys and the general public in each county courthouse. These libraries contain basic Maine legal materials, including statutes, court rules, and the opinions of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, as well as certain federal legal materials. The Law and Legislative Reference Library in Augusta and the Donald L. Garbrecht Law Library of the University of Maine School of Law and the Nathan B. And Henry Cleaves Law Library, both in Portland, may also be used by the public.