How the Federal Court System Works

Individual aspects of the Federal Court and their relation.

District Court

The District Court is the first level of the Federal Court where all cases begin. It has what is called original Jurisdiction: the authority to hear a case for the first time.

Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals is the 2nd level in the federal court system. It has what is called Appellate Jurisdiction: the authority to hear a case from a lower court. The Court of Appeals does not determine guilt or innocence; they determine if the trial was fair. These courts can use a remand to send the case back to a lower court to be tried again. The geographic area of the US Court of Appeals is called a circuit.


There are certain officials that play major and minor roles in the Federal Court system,

Justices: Supreme Court judges that serve life terms.

US Marshal: Makes arrests, collects fines and takes convicted people to prison, also protects jurors, keeps order in court and serve papers.

US Attorney: This leader represents the US gov't in all cases.

Magistrate Judge: Deals with paperwork and helps make sure the court runs efficiently.

After the Case

The ideas don't end when the case ends. Some cases set a precedent: a model for other judges to follow in making their own decisions on similar cases. There is also an opinion behind each case. An opinion explains the legal thinking behind the court's decision in a case.