Understanding Federal Crime v. State Crime

February 4, 2015
Understanding Federal Crime v. State Crime

There are so many various incidents that fall under the word of “crime.” But when it comes to how it is legally tried, there are two distinct courts in the US – federal courts and state courts. Below we outline the differences between “Federal Crime” and “State Crime.”

Federal and State Courts

Federal courts are established under the U.S. Constitution by Congress. They are established in order to decide disputes that involve violations of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. State and local courts are established by a state. It should be noted that within state courts there are also local courts that have been established by cities, counties, and other municipalities.


What federal courts and state courts are able to rule on is based on jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is: 1. the legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case; 2. the geographic area over which a court has the authority to decide cases.

Federal Court Jurisdiction

A Federal court’s jurisdiction is limited. It rules over the types of cases listed in the Constitution and is specifically provided for by Congress. Federal courts typically hear cases that meet one of the following requirements:

  • the United States is a party
  • the case involves violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal laws
  • the case is between citizens of different states (if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000)
  • bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and maritime law cases.

State Court Jurisdiction

State courts actually have have broad jurisdiction. These cases have a broad range, and can include robberies, traffic violations, broken contracts, and family disputes. In fact, the only cases state courts are legally not allowed to hear are lawsuits against the United States and cases involving certain specific federal laws: criminal, antitrust, bankruptcy, patent, copyright, and some maritime law cases.

It can get confusing sometimes, as in some cases, both federal and state courts have jurisdiction. When this happens, the party is allowed to choose whether it will go to state or federal court.


Source: Federal Judicial Center, What the Federal Courts Do, 2014

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