Federal Court System

Lacie Blankenship

District Courts

District Courts: federal courts where trials are held and lawsuits start
  • each state has at least 1 district court
  • for each federal court case the district court has the original jurisdiction
  • original jurisdiction: authority to hear the case for the first time
  • district courts hear civil and criminal court cases
  • consists of at least 2 judges
  • has magistrate judges that do the judges' routine work
  • each federal judicial district has a U.S. attorney that looks into the charges and presents the evidence in the court room, prosecutes accused people and represent the U.S. in civil government cases
  • each federal judicial district has a U.S. marshal that makes arrests, collects fines, takes convicted people to prison, protects jurors, maintains order in the court and serve subpoenas ordering people to show in court
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Court of Appeals

Appeals courts: review the decisions made in district courts, do not decide guilt or innocence or the winning side of a suit- rule on whether or not the original trial was fair and protected the rights of the person being tried

  • people that lose their district court case can appeal to the court of appeals, a step higher than the district courts
  • appellate jurisdiction: authority to hear a case that has been appealed from a lower level court
  • consists of 6-27 judges
  • the 12 courts of appeals cover a specific geographic area referred to as a circuit
  • appeals courts do not hold trials
  • panel of judges review case records and listens to both sides' arguments
  • judges decide in 1 of 3 ways; original decision, reverse original decision or remand the case (send it back to lower court to try again)
  • Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit: 13th appeals court that has a nationwide jurisdiction
  • appeals court decisions are mostly final unless appealed to the Supreme Court
  • one judge writes an opinion that explains the thinking behind the court's decision- this opinion sets a precedent (model for other judges to follow in making a decision on similar cases)

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Supreme Court

  • consists of 9 justices
  • final judge in cases that involve Congress laws and Constitution
  • justices are nominated by the President
  • highest court system
  • limited by other government branches
  • the court chooses the cases they hear
  • justices meet to discuss cases, share their thoughts and debate
  • conclusion is made when each justices takes a side on the case
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