The Difference Between State
and Federal Courts
There are two kinds of courts in the US - state courts and federal courts.
Every state has both state and federal courts. This article discusses the main
differences between the state and federal court systems. Note that "to
hear" when talking about courts, means the court both listening to and ruling
on a case.
The first difference is that Federal courts were established by the U.S.
constitution, and are controlled by the Federal court system, a part of the US
government. State (and the city and county courts within each state)
courts were established in, and are controlled by each state.
The second difference is the jurisdiction of state and federal courts. The
jurisdiction of a court means the types of cases a court is legally
authorized to hear.
One more difference in court systems is criminal and civil courts.
In criminal courts, the police enforce the laws, and defendants
have a constitutional right to be represented by council. Some
criminal courts protect the defendant's assets, so they can fund
In civil courts, defendants do
not have any constitutional rights to have their assets protected or
be represented by council. In California, a handy law to read is
State courts have broad jurisdiction. Cases such as theft, traffic
violations, broken contracts, common fraud, small claims, and family
disputes are usually heard in state courts.
Federal courts limit themselves to the types of cases listed in the
constitution and specifically provided for by Congress. Federal courts
hear lawsuits against the United States, federal crimes, cases involving
violation of federal laws or the constitution, antitrust, bankruptcy,
patent, copyright, most maritime cases, and cases where people are in
different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 (this is
called diversity jurisdiction).
In some cases, both state and federal courts have overlapping jurisdiction. This
allows parties to choose whether to go to state court or to federal court.
Defrauding a person lands you in state court. Robbing a bank lands you in
federal court. Selling drugs in one town lands you in state court, driving
drugs across state lines lands you in federal court. Hit and run usually
lands you in state court, hit and run at a federal park lands you in
A person can go to state or federal court to bring a case under the
federal law, or to a state court. A state-law-only case can be
brought only in state court. State judgments can be domesticated into
other state courts, Federal judgments can be registered in other federal
It is very important that one files their lawsuit in the correct
jurisdiction. If one finds that they are a defendant in a lawsuit, it is
very important to consider jurisdiction. If the lawsuit was filed in the
wrong court, it may be possible to get their case dismissed.
For more information, please see the link below:
For more information regarding the differences between state and federal
courts, please see the link below:
Which are stronger, Federal or State court judgments? That is a
trick question because the strength of a judgment depends almost
entirely on the available assets of the judgment debtor.
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