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What’s the Difference Between State and Federal Courts?

Posted On: August 30th, 2019   |   Posted by: Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP
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Many clients come to see us when they aren’t sure whether they are facing federal or state charges. Understandably, the distinction may not matter much to you – just being charged with a crime can be overwhelming. However, the difference between state and federal charges can significantly affect your case, so it’s important to understand the difference. It’s even more important to have an attorney who knows how to handle both federal and state cases.

With offices in Dublin and Columbus, the criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates represent people facing both state and federal charges. We have the knowledge and experience to handle almost any type of criminal case. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you need someone on your side – call us at (614) 500-3836 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys today.

State vs. Federal Courts

Our country is governed by two separate and distinct legal systems. Each state has its own legislature, governor, and court system, while the federal government is composed of the United States Congress, the President, and the federal court system.

State and federal courts each have specific types of cases that they will hear, referred to as “jurisdiction.” Each court system has unique legal procedures for how cases are handled and specific laws that will determine the outcome. While there are many similarities between state and federal court systems, the differences are significant. Failing to understand these differences can jeopardize your case.

Cases that State Courts Handle

Generally speaking, state courts hear cases involving state law and federal courts handle cases involving federal law. Most criminal cases are heard in state court because most crimes are violations of state or local law. In addition to criminal cases, state courts also handle:

  • Family law cases including divorce and custody
  • Estate cases
  • Personal injury cases
  • Contract disputes
  • Real estate disputes

Most cases in Columbus are heard in the Franklin County Municipal Court. Those cases can be appealed to Court of Appeals for the Tenth District of Ohio. The Supreme Court of Ohio is the “court of last resort” in Ohio, meaning that it is the final court of appeal.

Cases in Federal Court

The federal court system is created by the United States Constitution and is often referred to as courts of “limited jurisdiction.” This is because federal courts can only hear cases that they are specifically authorized to hear. Federal courts may hear some of the same cases that state courts handle, including criminal cases, but they must involve federal law.

Federal courts handle cases involving:

  • The United States is a party to the case
  • The case involves a matter of federal law or the Constitution
  • The case involves parties from different states
  • Bankruptcy, copyright, patent, or maritime law

Cases in the federal court system start in a United States District Court. Columbus is located in the Southern District of Ohio, with district courts in both Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton. Cases can be appealed from the district court to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, and then finally to the United States Supreme Court.

Criminal Cases in Federal Court

Criminal charges are a very serious, regardless of whether they are in state court or federal court. However, the dynamics involved in a federal criminal case can be significantly different. In general, the federal government has tremendous resources to devote to investigating and prosecuting their cases. Federal prosecutors are aggressive, diligent, and often politically motivated.

Many white-collar crimes are federal cases:

State courts typically handle cases involving the following crimes:

However, there can be a lot of overlap between state and federal criminal jurisdiction. A criminal defense attorney with experience in both state and federal cases can help you understand the charges you are facing.

Call the Columbus Criminal Defense Attorneys at LHA

The experienced and highly skilled criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates work with people in the Columbus area who have been charged with both federal and state crimes. We can explain what you’re up against, how to effectively handle the matter, and what it will take to secure the best possible outcome. If you’ve been charged with a crime and need someone to fight for your rights, contact us at (614) 500-3836 to schedule a free consultation today.



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