Which Court has the Power to Hear a Case?

Certain details of a crime can determine what type of court will hear a case.  Experienced attorney Doug Lauenstein explains the details that influence this decision.

Most criminal cases fall under two types of jurisdiction, depending on the specific details of the crime.  Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction of federal offenses, while State courts have jurisdiction of state offenses. However, there are instances when a crime qualifies as both, which is known as concurrent jurisdiction.

Federal Jurisdiction

Federal offenses include crimes that occur on government land, across multiple states, or even in foreign countries that could have an impact inside the United States.  Crimes that take place on government land involve those committed in areas such as national parks, military bases, government buildings, and likewise.  Since this land is controlled by the federal government, any hearings will take place in federal court.

Further any crime that crosses state lines, and therefore takes place in multiple states, will be tried In federal court.  This could be a crime such as drug or human trafficking between states.

Additionally, federal courts have the power to hear cases regarding crimes that took place in foreign countries, so long as the case includes evidence that the defendant intended to effect something or someone inside the United States.  Examples of this can include cybercrimes and trafficking across international borders.  However, there are potential complications for the federal government bringing the offender to court, depending on the foreign country’s extradition policies.

State Jurisdiction

Typically, most crimes that occur within state borders will be heard by a state court unless there is federally owned property involved that is entirely within a state border.  Cases involving crimes executed on that property will be held in federal court.

In each state court system,  court designated with certain types of cases are specified by law and may be referred to with different names.  For example, felonies and misdemeanors committed within state borders may be heard in one type of court in Maryland, but tried in a different type of court in Florida.  In most cases, general jurisdiction courts are named Superior or Circuit courts.

Many states also have juvenile courts for crimes that are committed by minors. Although, in certain situations, minors can be tried as an adult.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

Concurrent jurisdiction describes a situation when more than one court can claim power to decide a case.  For example, more than one state might have jurisdiction if the crime spills across multiple states.  Concurrent jurisdiction may also occur if a crime takes place on federal land and non-federal land, giving both state and federal courts the power to hear the case.  In these cases, the first court to exercise jurisdiction will own the case, and the other court will have to wait the first reaches completion.  Often, when there are competing claims, the attorneys involved will meet to discuss which court should obtain jurisdiction first.

For more information contact Doug Lauenstein at lauensteinlaw@comcast.net