What Is the Difference Between State & Federal Courts?

In the United States, we have two types of courts – state courts and federal courts. The state courts handle violations of state laws, which are enacted by state legislators. Meanwhile, the federal courts handle violations of federal laws, which are established by Congress.

State and federal courts have different jurisdictions. Jurisdiction refers to the types of cases a court is authorized or permitted to hear. State courts handle by far the majority of criminal cases because most crimes are violations of state laws – think drug crimesthefts, robberies, sex crimes, violent crimes, and so on.

The state courts have jurisdiction to handle violations of state law. In contrast, federal courts handle cases that involve violations of federal law. The federal courts, for example, will hear cases involving bankruptcy fraud, drug trafficking, internet crimes, child pornography, copyrights, patents, maritime law, and a number of white collar crimes.

When State & Federal Courts Have Jurisdiction

Sometimes, both the state and federal courts have jurisdiction. This happens when someone breaks a law that is illegal under both state and federal law. Health insurance fraud and drug trafficking are two examples. In these situations, the state and federal prosecutors will decide which court is better to hear the case.

Most criminal cases are handled in the state courts, but if a criminal case involves one or more federal laws, it can be prosecuted in federal court. As a general rule, if a crime violates both state and federal law, the defendant will face harsher penalties if they are prosecuted and convicted on the federal level. That’s because federal offenses tend to carry stiffer penalties than state-level offenses.

Related: What Are the Possible Outcomes of a Criminal Case?

If you’re facing state or federal charges, you should be represented by a defense attorney who’s licensed to practice in the state and federal courts. To schedule your free consultation, I invite you to contact my firm today.

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