State vs. Federal Courts: What's the Difference?

In the United States, there are two kinds of laws – state laws and federal laws. As a result, there are state-level crimes and federal crimes. There are also state courts and federal courts. When someone violates a state law, the case will be handled by a state court and when a federal law is violated, it will be handled in federal court.

Sometimes a crime violates both state and federal law. In this case, the defendant can be tried in state court or federal court. Often, it comes down to the magnitude of the crime and what the state and federal prosecutors decide.

State laws are passed by state legislators, whereas federal laws are passed by Congress. States establish state criminal courts in cities and counties to prosecute violations of state law. In contrast, the federal courts are established under the U.S. Constitution and instead of deciding on state-level offenses, they strictly handle federal prosecutions involving violations of laws contained in the Constitution and passed by Congress.

Importance of Jurisdiction

State and federal courts have different jurisdiction, which refers to the types of cases that a specific court has the authority to hear. For example, a state court would not handle a federal drug trafficking case that involves violations of federal drug trafficking laws. Conversely, a federal court would not handle a DWI case that involves violations of Texas’ drunk and drugged driving law under the Texas Penal Code.

Most Cases Are Handled by the State

The vast majority of criminal cases are handled by the state courts because more offenses violate state law vs. federal law. The common cases – assaults, DWIs, drug crimes, theft crimes, violent crimes, domestic violence, robberies and burglaries are state crimes. State courts general don’t hear cases involving bankruptcy, patents, copyrights, antitrust violations, and some maritime cases.

As a rule, cases that involve violations of state and federal law can be tried in either court, but violations of federal law can only be tried in federal court. Also, if a crime violates both state and federal law, the fines and sentencing are usually a lot harsher if it’s prosecuted as a federal crime.

If you’re facing federal charges, or charges that can be prosecuted in state or federal court, you have to have a defense attorney who is admitted to practice in federal court, because not all lawyers have this capability. For state or federal defense representation in McKinney and the surrounding areas, contact The Crowder Law Firm, P.C.

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