Federal court building (US Supreme Court)

How Cases Get to a Federal Court

There are two types of court systems — federal and state. Each of these court systems is tasked with hearing different types of cases. While state courts are primarily responsible for interpreting state law, federal courts have the responsibility of hearing a number of different types of cases.

Because many people have questions about how cases reach federal court, the following will take a brief look at how and when courts hear federal cases.

The Levels of Federal Courts

Since the creation of the United States, the federal system has evolved. The federal court system began with Article III of the Constitution, which acknowledged that the primary judicial power in the United States rested in the Supreme Court. The Constitution also gave Congress the ability to create courts “below” the Supreme Court as necessary.

As a result, there are three levels to the current federal court system:

  • District courts. These 94 courts are where federal cases are tried. Judges elected to these courts serve eight-year terms. Primarily, these courts handle criminal cases including the setting of bail and issuing of search warrants.
  • Appellate courts. There are 12 circuit courts in the United States, which were created by Congress to reduce the Supreme Court’s caseload as well as to hear cases from the 94 district courts.
  • The Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.  
  • Executive branch courts. Not actually part of the judicial branch of government, there are a number of federal courts tasked with hearing a number of unique cases including taxes, veterans claims, and armed forces issues.

The Types of Cases Heard by Federal Courts

Federal courts only hear a limited number of cases. These include:

  • Diversity. Cases that arise between the residents of two different states can proceed to federal court provided that there is more than $75,000 involved.
  • Federal question. Federal courts are tasked with resolving any case that involves a question with federal law. These can range from copyright questions to issues involving federal crimes.
  • Treaties and diplomats. When cases impact the United States standing with other countries, federal courts are tasked with resolving matters.
  • Federal government cases. If a person initiates a lawsuit against the federal government, the matter will be heard by a federal court.

Common Types of Federal Criminal Cases

Some of the most common types of federal criminal cases include:

  • Drug-related offenses. While many drug offenses are prosecuted at the state level, some cases turn into federal issues when a person is charged with drug crimes.
  • Weapons charges. These are offenses involving the possession of a firearm. These charges frequently arise when a person is accused of possessing a firearm.
  • White collar crimes. The term “white collar crime” refers to a number of non-violent offenses. Some of the most common types of offenses include embezzlement, fraud, and tax evasion.

Speak with an Experienced Federal Criminal Law Attorney

Navigating a federal criminal appeal can be complex. As a result, it can be helpful to obtain the assistance of an attorney who is highly experienced in this area of law.

Contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today to schedule a free case evaluation.