The Federal Court system was established during America’s formative years with the passing of the Judiciary Act. President George Washington signed this act into law on September 24, 1789. The Judiciary Act defines what federal cases are.

Federal courts are ones of limited jurisdiction, which means they can only hear certain types of cases. For the most part, jurisdiction in the federal system is limited to cases where:

  • The United States is a party in the action,
  • Cases alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal law,
  • Crimes occur on federal property,
  • Cases involving interstate commerce or interstate criminal activity,
  • Bankruptcy, social security, copyright, patent, Native American rights, immigration or maritime cases,
  • Cases involving international trade and foreign treaties, and
  • Cases that involve state law, but where the parties reside in different states, and the amount in controversy is more than $75,000.00 (there is no small claims procedure in the federal court system).

In some instances, both the state court and federal will have overlapping jurisdiction, in which case the parties can choose which court should hear the case.


There are some several differences between cases that end up in the state court system and the federal system. One key distinction is in criminal cases, as there is no parole in the federal system.

Absent a presidential pardon, defendants convicted of federal crimes are not eligible for early release. Another difference between the two court systems is the volume of cases heard. State courts by far hear more cases, however the cases in federal court tend to be of more national importance.

This is because they serve an important role in hearing cases involving many of Americans most basic rights, such as equal protection under the law and freedom of speech. Finally, one of the most important distinctions in federal courts is the judge. Unlike state court judges, federal judges do not run campaigns and are not elected. Federal judges are appointed by the President of the United States and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Federal judges are also granted lifetime appointments, state court judges must be re-elected after each term.


It is extremely important to have an attorney who is experienced in the court system to handle your case. Even though a lawyer may be experienced at the state court level, that does not necessarily mean the same is true in federal court.

For example, the rules are different in federal courts for things such as filing deadlines and the procedure to appeal cases. If you find yourself in a situation where you need legal representation in federal court, the lawyers at The Federal Defenders are here to assist.


The law is very nuanced. Federal prosecutors have almost unlimited advantages and resources at their disposal. Having attorneys on your team that understand the law, keep abreast of legal developments in the law, have the experience dealing with the complexities of federal statutes and, finally, possess the skills to stand before a jury to make a compelling case on behalf of a client are not just important qualities, they’re critical. At The Federal Defenders we pride ourselves on being advocates for our clients. With decades of experience with all variety and manner of federal criminal issues and defenses, we understand what it takes to put our clients in a winning position. For a free and confidential consultation, call us today at (800) 712-0000. Just like our toll-free number, we operate nationwide.