How Does the Jurisdiction of State and Federal Court Differ?
When the United States was founded in 1776, tension existed between the federal and state governments regarding power, the ability to tax, and control of the courts and legal systems. This tension continues today and is evident in the separate jurisdiction of federal and state courts.
What Are the Different Jurisdictions of Federal and State Courts
Jurisdiction is the legal term that defines the cases a court can hear. In the United States, jurisdiction is divided into two general categories: state court jurisdiction and federal court jurisdiction.
State courts are established by the laws of each individual state. These courts have broad jurisdiction and hear criminal cases, civil matters, domestic relations cases, and probate, often in county and municipal courts.
Federal courts are established by the US Constitution. Their jurisdiction is much narrower and is generally limited to: (a) cases in which the United States is a party; (b) claims involving federal law or the United States Constitution; or (c) cases where the parties are in different states and the amount in controversy is more than $75,000.
In some cases, state and federal courts have jurisdiction over the same issue. When both options are available, the party bringing the lawsuit can choose the jurisdiction in which they wish to proceed.
Federal Court Jurisdiction Over Criminal Cases
Most criminal cases involve violations of state law. These cases are filed by local county or municipal court prosecutors and heard by state or municipal court judges. But when a case involves a violation of federal law, that case must be heard in federal court.
Criminal cases involving alleged violations of federal law are known as cases of original jurisdiction, meaning that the federal district court is the starting point for the case. The case is filed by a federal prosecutor who is only authorized to bring cases in federal court. Examples of federal criminal cases are: wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, tax fraud, environmental violations, counterfeit cases, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, money laundering, securities fraud, health care fraud, medicare fraud, drug crimes, etc.
Importantly, the principle of double jeopardy—that a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice—does not apply between state and federal court jurisdiction. For example, if a case was filed in state court and the defendant was acquitted, the federal government could file a similar case in federal court if the same criminal conduct violated both state and federal laws.
Federal Court Judges: Appointed by the President, Serving for Life
Unlike state court judges, who are elected, federal judges and US Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed “with the advice and consent” of the Senate. They hold these positions for life, although some judges retire or resign earlier. One exception is magistrate judges, who are selected by a district court judge and serve for a specified term.
Three Levels of Federal Court Jurisdiction
The federal system has three levels: district courts (where trials are heard), circuit courts (the first level of appeal), and the Supreme Court of the United States (the final level of appeal).
Federal District Court Jurisdiction
Federal district courts are the general trial courts of the federal court system. Alleged violations of federal law are filed by federal prosecutors in federal district court.
A federal district court judge manages their court and supervises court employees. A federal judge may appoint a magistrate judge who oversees certain cases, handles issues such as search warrants and arrest warrants, conducts initial hearings, and decides certain motions. A federal magistrate only has jurisdiction over federal misdemeanors.
Federal Circuit Courts
Once a federal district court has decided an issue, a party can appeal the decision to a federal court of appeals, known as a federal circuit court. New York City is located in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Philadelphia is located in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
A federal appeals case is heard by a panel of three circuit court judges who review legal briefs filed by each party. The legal briefs explain whether the district court’s decision should be affirmed or reversed. Once the legal briefs have been filed, the court will schedule an oral argument where the lawyers appear in court to present their arguments and answer questions asked by the judges.
The Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the American legal system. It has the power to decide appeals on cases brought in federal court as well as cases filed in state court that touch on federal law.
Once a circuit court has ruled on an issue, either party can file an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Unlike circuit courts, which are required to hear an appeal, the US Supreme Court is not required to accept all appeals. Parties who file an appeal to the US Supreme Court must file a writ of certiorari asking the court to hear the case. If the writ is granted, the Court will accept legal briefs and hear the case. The US Supreme Court accepts less than 1% of cases, and they typically involve issues where there are conflicting decisions across the country or when there was a particularly egregious error.
Contact Hope Lefeber for Aggressive Federal Criminal Defense
Cases filed in federal court are serious. If you are under investigation or have been named as a defendant in a federal criminal case, you face the vast reach and resources of the federal government, whose goal is to convict you and punish you for a crime. Penalties linked to federal crimes are often much more severe than those handed down by state courts. To defend yourself, you need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer who thoroughly understands federal criminal law.
Contact a NYC Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
Hope Lefeber has over three decades of experience working in the federal court system. She has earned a reputation as one of the top federal criminal defense lawyers and is consistently named as a SuperLawyer, as one of the top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association, and as one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys.
Ms. Lefeber meticulously investigates and prepares every case she takes on. She knows how to mount an aggressive and effective legal defense to federal criminal charges and has a reputation for achieving the best results for her clients. Ms. Lefeber personally handles every case from start to finish, and prides herself on intense preparation, a strong courtroom presence, and a vast knowledge of federal criminal law.
In more than thirty years of practicing federal criminal law, Ms. Lefeber has developed trust and respect among prosecutors, judges, and other criminal defense lawyers. These relationships enable her to navigate the difficult path of a federal criminal case to achieve results for her clients.
To learn more, contact Hope Lefeber to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your situation.