Federal Court Systems

By Cameron McIntosh

How Do U.S. Federal Court Systems Work?

U.S. District Courts

"District Courts are the federal courts where trials are held and lawsuits are begun." These courts have original jurisdiction, or "the authority to hear the case for the first time", during all federal cases. District courts also hear civil and criminal cases.

U.S. Court of Appeals

People can appeal to a higher court, such as the Court of Appeals, if they lose in a District court. "Appeals Courts review decisions made in lower district courts." "The authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court" is called appellate jurisdiction. This type of jurisdiction is involved in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The 12 U.S. Court of Appeals "covers a particular geographic area" or circuit.

What Happens in Appeals Courts

"Appeals courts do not decide guilt or innocence or which side should win a suit. They rule only on whether the original trial was fair and protected the person's rights." In Appeals courts, an appellate judge writes an opinion, which "explains the legal thinking behind the court's decision in the case." The opinion sets a precedent or a law decision serving as a pattern "in future similar or analogous cases."

Appointed Judges

Federal judges are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. Once a judge is approved by the Senate, they can only be forced out of office through impeachment. This means that these judges serve life terms - they can leave office when they want.

Magistrate Judges

Every District Court has Magistrate Judges, and they are responsible for several tasks. They make the decision on whether the accused should be held in jail or released on bail. They do much of the routine work by a judge. And they hear preliminary evidence and decide whether the case should go to trial.

U.S. Attorneys

U.S. Attorneys are government lawyers that prosecute those accused of breaking federal laws. They are the ones responsible for looking into the charges and presenting the evidence in court. Also, they represent the U.S. in civil cases involving the government.

U.S. Marshalls

All federal judicial districts have a U.S. Marshall. U.S. Marshalls are responsible for making arrests, collecting fines, taking convicted people to prison, protecting jurors, keeping order in court, and serving subpoenas - ordering people to appear in court.