Initially the American court system used common laws as a basis for its decisions. This was due to a lack of written constitutions. With the growth of the U.S. and the development of constitutions (federal and state) common law became intertwined with civil law. Crucial is the practice of “stare decisis.” While in Athens, the decisions of the archons made up their legal system prior to the development of the Draconian and Solonian Codes of Law. The archons decided each case on an individual basis and there seems to be no evidence to suggest that “stare decisis” influenced any of their decisions.
Another area of comparison between the two systems lies in the type of cases tried in both legal systems. The dike case is similar to the civil case in the respect that both cased involve disputes between individuals. In the same light, the graphe case is similar to the criminal case because in both cases the state or public is affected by the case in question.
Another similarity between the legal systems is that both systems had specialized courts to handle different types of cases. Differences existed between the procedure and type of cases handled by these courts. For example in Athens there were several courts that dealt with homicide. While in the U.S. murder cases are dealt with in one court, either in the state trial court or the U.S. District Court, depending on whether federal or state statutes were violated.
The role and selection of the judges was another area in which the two systems differed. Even with Solon’s reorganization, the selection of judges was based on class, even though wealth was used to determine a person’s class. There existed a variety of ways to choose a judge in the U.S. and there are many factors which influence their selection, but class is not one of them (this was not always true). Further, persons without legal training and experience are rarely considered for judgeships in the U.S.
The role of the judges during court proceedings in Athens and the U.S. is another area of difference. The Athenian magistrate had no say about the outcome. He simply presided over the proceeding. Their American counterparts, by contrast, play a more active part in the decision making process. These judges help interpret the law for the jury and if they feel a miscarriage of justice has occurred in the face of overwhelming evidence they have the power to overturn a decision of a jury.
The Athenian and American court system entrust the jury with the responsibility of determining truth. One difference between the jury systems is size. The Athenians believed in large juries with an odd number. In comparison, the American jury is composed of only twelve, or sometimes even six, members. Random choice is used in the jury selection process in both systems despite the difference in procedure. Another difference in the jury system lies in the fact that in Athens a simple majority is needed for an acquittal or a guilty verdict, whereas in the U.S. an unanimous vote is necessary.
Two professions developed alongside each system to aid their citizens in presenting their cases. The logographos aided the Athenian citizen and the modern-day lawyer aids the American citizen. A distinction should be made between the logographoi and the American lawyer. Anyone could be a logographos; there were no prerequisites or qualifications whereas the American lawyer has to pass a bar exam to prove his expertise. In concluding, each judicial system provided a system of justice that its citizens found acceptable. The citizens may not have agreed with the decision of the courts but they apparently agreed with the process.