The Difference Between Stateand Federal Courts

August 13, 2023


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 their defense. 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 CCP 128.7.

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 federal court.

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 courts.

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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