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What are federal courts responsible for?

If you've been accused of a crime, you may be wondering if you'll be headed to state or federal court. Going to a state court is most common, but there are times when your attorney may suggest going to federal court instead. Not all cases can be tried at the state level, meaning that you may have to wait longer for a federal court to hear your case.

Federal crimes are different than state crimes, and they are therefore judged by the federal courts. Federal crimes also tend to have heavier penalties than state crimes, although that is not always the case.

Federal courts only see some types of cases, so you may not be able to go to a federal court to make your case. The cases that are heard in a federal court involve the United States as a party in some instances, but those aren't the only cases that will be heard.

In others, the cases will involve violations of the U.S. Constitution and your rights or other federal laws. Cases involving maritime law, patents, copyrights, or bankruptcy all must go through federal court. Cases that are between two different parties or more in different states may also be reviewed by a federal judge, but only if the amount the case is for is over $75,000.

Most of the time, state courts will deal with cases involving robberies, traffic violations or other disputes. However, sometimes both state and federal courts have jurisdiction, so your Minnesota attorney may be asked which court you want the case to go through.

Source: Federal Judicial Center, "What the Federal Courts Do," accessed Feb. 25, 2016

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