The Difference Between a Federal and a State Court

January 13, 2023 by Seppi Esfandi in California  Criminal Defense  Federal Crime  
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U.S. Justice System

The Constitution of the United States created a federal judicial system shared by the federal and state governments. Each state has its own federal and state court systems, which are separate. You must comprehend these distinctions, particularly if facing federal vs. state charges. The distinction between state and federal courts affects several things. This includes where you are detained, your trial’s location, your judge’s identity, the possible charges and fines you face, and the counsel involved.


Ultimately, jurisdiction is what sets federal and state courts apart. The cases a court can hear are labeled under its “jurisdiction.”

Since state courts have wide-ranging jurisdiction, they are the typical venues for trying crimes involving individual citizens, such as theft, traffic offenses, breach of contract, and domestic disputes. Only matters involving federal law and litigation against the United States are outside the jurisdiction of state courts.

In contrast, federal courts only hear matters outlined in the Constitution and legislated by Congress. Federal courts often only hear:

  • Bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and maritime law cases
  • Cases involving breaches of the U.S. Constitution or federal statutes (under federal-question jurisdiction)
  • Cases in which the United States is involved
  • Cases between citizens from different states if the amount in dispute exceeds $75,000 (under diversity jurisdiction)
  • Cases involving the United States as a party

Courts at the federal and state levels may sometimes have jurisdiction over a matter. This allows parties to decide whether to pursue litigation in state or federal court.

The word “state court” is used interchangeably with “local court” since the state government creates both, and both are considered “state courts.” Article III of the U.S. Constitution allows the creation of federal courts to hear cases involving interpreting or enforcing federal statutes and the Constitution.

Court scheduling

As a result of their increased caseloads and the fact that they may not have been involved in the original arrest or investigation of a defendant, state prosecutors are often more unpredictable than their federal counterparts. Timing may vary widely across state and federal courts. Unlike state court judges, who may have many cases scheduled for hearing or trial simultaneously, federal court justices typically only have one case scheduled for hearing or trial at a time. In contrast to state courts, federal prosecutors often do not dismiss or postpone cases and follow a far more expedited trial procedure.


In the event of an arrest and state-level criminal charges, a suspect may be able to post bail by either coming up with the cash themselves or hiring a bondsman. Defendants in federal criminal cases are often “released” on their recognizance or after paying a substantial bail. Pretrial release terms for federal criminal offenders include reporting to pretrial services regularly and following any other regulations set by a federal judge. If a defendant is regarded as a flight risk, a threat to the community, or has foreign ties, they may be required to wear a GPS ankle monitor.


Separate juror pools are used to pick juries for state and federal courts. To be a jury in a state court case, you must be a resident of the county where the trial will occur. In contrast, federal jurors can reside anywhere within bigger federal districts, making federal juries more likely to include members of various urban and rural populations with varying political and social perspectives.


Cases brought before a state court judge will have a different judicial structure than those brought before a federal judge. After an arrest or indictment or in response to specific motions made in a case, a defendant may appear before a federal magistrate judge. U.S. District Judges are designated by the President and approved by the Senate to serve for life. Still, their subordinates, the Magistrate Judges, have limited authority and report directly to the presiding judge. U.S. District Judges consider civil and criminal matters within their federal authority. Judicial officials at the state level are usually appointed or elected for staggered terms of office.


Punishments laid out to defendants are the most controversial aspect separating state and federal courts. The penalties for those found guilty in state courts may be severe, including time spent in state prison. Inmates convicted in federal courts serve their sentences in federal rather than state facilities. Some federal court offenders, however, may be sentenced to probation or monetary penalties.

Getting in touch with a skilled federal defense attorney as soon as possible if you are accused of breaking federal law is crucial since the legal procedure may be challenging and complicated.

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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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