First, it helps to understand the difference between federal and state courts. Federal courts were established by Congress in order to try crimes or oversee cases involving federal law, or that involve the U.S. government. State courts have a wider jurisdiction, meaning they try more cases in general because they oversee a larger amount of state-specific laws. For example, a law established and broken in Florida would not be tried federally - the case would stay in state.
What Jurisdiction does the Federal Government Have?
Because the jurisdiction of federal courts is smaller, it is easier to look at and understand the crimes tried there. Federal courts oversee the following cases:
- Crimes against the United States
- Violations of federal laws or the U.S. Constitution
- Crimes involving interstate plaintiffs if the amount involved is more than $75,000
- Intellectual property disputes, such as copyright and patent violations
- Crimes committed at sea
Someone who has violated federal law or the Constitution must be tried in federal court, because the laws broken were established by the federal government. For example, if Congress suddenly decided to ban religious ornamentation in public (such as wearing a cross necklace or a hijab), any religious individuals would take the U.S. government to court citing violation of their First Amendment rights.
In interstate cases, crimes such as theft would be tried in federal court if the amount stolen exceeded $75,000 dollars. Let's say a man stole an expensive car in one state and drove back to his own state; the original owner would have to go to federal court to prosecute the thief. Smuggling drugs or weapons across the U.S. border would also be a crime prosecuted in federal courts, because the contraband wouldn't be restricted to one state alone and their presence could affect the entire country.
Intellectual theft is tried in federal courts because all intellectual property is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Any artist or inventor who would like to protect his or her intellectual property wouldn't register it only in one particular state or in fifty individual patent offices. Registering with the federal government ensures the property is protected throughout the United States.
Federal courts also try crimes committed on the sea (maritime crimes), where no state has jurisdiction. Maritime crimes include any civil or criminal cases committed on the ocean with the addition of piracy. According to U.S. Code § 1333, piracy includes any property taken as a "prize" that was brought into the United States.
While the difference between state and federal courts may be clear, the nature of various crimes may place it in either category. If you're unsure if your case will be tried in state or federal court, contact one of our Florida criminal defense attorneys at (888) 484-5057 or complete our online form for a free case review.