The courts charging you with any variety of crime is terrifying, but the difference between the state and federal court systems is important for you to understand.

The layout of the state and federal courts at its broadest brushstroke is simple: there is one federal court system and 50 state court systems. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, each of these state court systems operate independently from each other and they also all operate independently of the federal courts.

Who decides what court to prosecute a crime in?

In the event that either a federal or state court could prosecute a crime, the state and federal prosecutors make this decision. This particular decision is entirely up to the prosecutors and the defendant may not appeal it.

It is also possible for both the state and federal courts to charge an individual with the exact same crime. In this case, there will be two completely separate proceedings. Whether this occurs or not is, again, up to the prosecutors involved with the cases.

How do I know which court is charging me?

The easiest way is to ask your attorney. Outside of this, you can make phone calls to the courthouse where you will make your appearance and ask the clerk of court. Additionally, any filed documents will say “U.S. District Court” at the top if it is a federal court. If it says anything else, this means that the case is in a state court.

Some crimes are the sole province of federal courts. For example, immigration offenses of any nature are always tried in federal court.