How Does Federal Court Differ From State Court?

About Federal Crimes
March 26, 2020
Why You Should Hire A Federal Defense Attorney
March 26, 2020
About Federal Crimes
March 26, 2020
Why You Should Hire A Federal Defense Attorney
March 26, 2020

What are the differences in court procedures between state and federal court? State courts mimic bigger national courts in a number of ways.

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The most significant difference between state and federal courts is that state courts are where state laws are enforced, while federal courts manage national laws. State constitutions empower state courts, but the United States constitution is what empowers a federal court. You should keep in mind that, although states can set their own laws, federal law takes precedence over state law. Every state has a supreme court that handles appeals at the state level. At the federal level, there are district courts, with the United States Supreme Court at the top. There are several categories in federal courts. However, many state courts are focused on a specific area of practice, such as family court or small claims courts. If a party is unhappy with a decision made by a federal court, it may be possible for them to have their case heard by one of the thirteen U.S. Courts of Appeals. In a state court, it is required to make appeals through the state appellate court. If cases have already gone through the U.S. Court of Appeals, they may be heard by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest authority, which means they will have the final say in any cases that they hear. Every state has its own Supreme Court. In most cases, a state’s Supreme Court will make the final determination in the cases that they hear. Only some state-level cases are heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

How Judges Are Appointed

For a judge to take a seat at a federal court, they must be nominated for the position by the President. The Senate must then confirm the nomination. In many cases, these are lifelong appointments. With that said, if a judge displays behavior that is inappropriate, it is possible that they may be impeached by congress. In contrast, judges at the state court may be elected, or they may be appointed by the state for a period of time. While lifetime appointments are possible, it is also possible for a judge to lose their seat if they are in violation of a state’s constitution.

Court Cases

Both state and federal courts oversee criminal cases. However, some types of cases are typically handled by a federal court, while other cases are usually handled at the state level. In most cases, a dispute that is being resolved at the state level will not be heard by the United States Supreme Court, even if a party appeals a state decision. The U.S. Supreme Court is able to decide which cases they want to hear.

Some types of cases that the federal courts hear are:

* Cases determining whether or not a law is constitutional

* Conflicts revolving around national law or government treaties

* Cases that U.S. ambassadors or public ministers are involved in

* Federal law violations

* Bankruptcy

* Maritime law

* Habeas corpus

Cases that are typically handled at a state level include:

* Most criminal cases

* Contract disputes

* Family law

* Estate laws and will disputes

* Personal injury cases

* Small claims cases

State and federal courts have different processes for handling criminal cases. The steps of the process, from charging to prosecution to trials, are different at the state and federal level.

The Investigative Process

The criminal justice process starts after someone is arrested. The state police do not investigate federal crimes. Federal agents, like the FBI or the DEA, are the ones that handle these investigations. After the investigation, state police may assist with arrests. Court proceedings can start after arrests have been made.

Initial Court Appearances

Once someone has been arrested, they will make their initial court appearance. This appearance will not take place at the California State court. Instead, it will take place at the Federal court that is nearest your county. This appearance has a lot in common with preliminary hearings. What makes it different is that the case will not begin with a prosecutor making a case for probable cause. Instead, a defendant will be brought in front of a judge. The judge will decide whether or not proceedings will continue. The court can appoint an attorney if a defendant is not able to find a private attorney. If a judge believes that there is enough evidence to establish reasonable cause, the case will move forward and will enter the arraignment stage.

The Arraignment Stage

During the arraignment, a defendant will be asked to formally read the charges against them. They will have the option to enter a plea. This process is the same in state courts. When a defendant has legal representation, their lawyer will provide assistance with this process. If they have talked over options with the prosecutor, they may advise the defendant to enter a guilty plea.


If a plea of “not guilty” is entered at the arraignment, the case will go to trial. The pretrial period is the next step of the process. This is when discoveries and motions can take place. Motions operate in the same way at the state and federal level. Motions can be used to dismiss charges or suppress certain pieces of evidence. Any motions must be approved by the judge that is overseeing the case. During the period, it is still possible for a defendant to make a plea bargain.

The Trial Stage

If the prosecution and defense are unable to reach a plea bargain agreement, the case will move forward and enter the trial stage. Trials in all courts follow standard procedures. During this time, the prosecution, defense, and judge will select a jury using the voir dire process. After the jury has been selected, the trial will move forward. Trials operate in the same way at the state and federal level. Opening statements are made, evidence is presented, and closing arguments are made. The jury will deliberate before announcing their verdict. If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will sentence them.


If a defendant is found guilty, they have the right to file an appeal if they believe that an error was made in either the courtroom procedure or the legal process. Even if an appeal is successful, a defendant will not necessarily be released, and the guilty verdict will not necessarily be overturned. Still, an appeal is the best option in cases where some sort of error was made.

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