If you or your loved one need help with a criminal case, one of the first things you’ll need to know is whether you are in state or federal court. The difference between state and federal courts impacts several factors. Thise include where you’re locked up, where your trial is, who your judge is, what potential charges and penalties you face and what attorneys get involved. If you’re looking for help after criminal charges, understanding the difference between state and federal court is important.
What is the difference between state and federal courts?
The U.S. Constitution controls all other laws in the United States. It creates a system of government where state and federal governments share power. As a result, there are both state and federal court systems. The court systems have a lot in common. But there are differences that can impact your criminal case.
Federal courts hear different cases than state courts. They hear cases about constitutional issues, U.S. laws and treaties, state disputes and more. State courts, on the other hand, hear most criminal cases, family-law disputes and personal-injury lawsuits. They also hear probate cases (cases involving wills, trusts and estates) and contract cases. Usually, state and federal cases remain in the state or federal system the entire time. The only exception is if you appeal a state court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. But that option is not always available.
Another big difference focuses on judges. The President nominates and the Senate confirms federal judges. In most cases, federal judges remain as judges for their entire lives. State judges, on the other hand, usually get elected. Sometimes, a state’s governor might appoint them, too. Depending on the state, they could be in office for life for a term of years.
What impact does the difference have on your case?
These differences, by themselves, might not matter to you. The differences that matter involves the impact they have on your criminal case. The first big difference comes with what crimes prosecutors can charge. Most crimes, such as robbery, murder, rape and assault get charged in state courts.
But if you commit those crimes on federal property, they can land you in federal court instead. Examples include federal buildings, prisons and courthouses. Similarly, if you rob a bank with federally insured deposits, you might go to federal court instead. Other crimes like identity theft, drug trafficking or using USPS to commit a crime trigger federal law as well.
The differences between state and federal court also impact the attorney prosecuting you. If you are in state court, you’ll face a prosecutor or district attorney. In federal court, however, you’ll face a U.S. attorney. Although there are very talented prosecutors at both levels, many state prosecutors want to become U.S. attorneys, which usually means the best and most qualified ones are at the federal level.
Finally, there is a difference with the type of law enforcement. At the state level, state troopers and county police officers investigate your case. At the federal level, it could be federal police officers. But it could also be federal agencies like the FBI, CIA, IRS, DEA, ATF, IRS, and Secret Service.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, you want to know what to expect in your case. To do so, it’s important to understand the differences between state and federal court. This difference can impact the crimes and penalties involved, which attorneys can work on the case and the judges that oversee the case.