The Federal Court System

By: Ernaya Johnson

Vocabulary

  • US Marshall- makes arrests, collects fines, and takes convicted person's to prison, protect jurors, keep order in the court, and serve papers.
  • US Attorney- A government lawyer who prosecutes people accused of breaking Federal Laws, who also represents the US government in all cases.
  • Magistrate Judge- decides whether the accused should be held in jail or released on bail.
  • Life Terms- When someone can hold office for as long as they would like.
  • Precedent- Model for other judges to follow in making their own decisions on similar cases.
  • Opinion- Explains the legal thinking behind the court's decision in the case.
  • Remand- Sending the case back to lower court to be tried again.
  • Circuit-The geographic area of a US Court of Appeals.
  • Appellate Jurisdiction- The authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court.
  • Original Jurisdiction- The authority to hear a case for the first time.
  • District Courts- Federal courts where trials are held and lawsuits are begun
  • Court of Appeals-The Federal court that reviews decisions made in the district courts

The Judicial Branch

The federal court system has three main levels: district courts (trial court), circuit courts (first level of appeal), and the Supreme Court of the United States (final level of appeal in the federal court). The duty of the Judicial Branch is to interpret the law. The Judicial Branch can be found under Article III in the Constitution.

District courts are the federal courts where trials are held and lawsuits begin. All states have at least one, but some larger states have two or three. For all federal cases, district courts have original jurisdiction, the authority to hear the case for the first time. They are the only federal courts that involve witnesses and juries.

People who lose in a district court in a district court often appeal to the next highest level-a U.S. Court of Appeals. Appeals courts review decisions made in lower district courts; this is appellate jurisdiction. Each of the 12 U.S. courts of appeals covers a particular geographic area called a circuit.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, has nationwide jurisdiction. Appeals courts do not hold trials. The judges for this and all appeals courts are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. A panel of judges review the case records and listens to arguments from lawyers on both sides. The judges may decide to uphold the original decision, reverse the decision, or remand the case.

Appeals courts do not decide guilt or innocence or which side should win a suit. They only rule on whether the original trial was fair and protected the person's rights. Most appeals court decisions are final. A few cases are appealed to the Supreme court. One appellate judge writes and opinion that explains the court's decision in the case.
The opinion sets a precedent or model for other judges to follow in making their own decisions on similar cases.

Each district court has at least 2 judges. Each appeals court has 6 to 27 judges. The Supreme Court has 9 justices. Federal court judges are appointed by the President with Senate approval. They serve for life terms.

Magistrate judges decide whether accused people should be held in jail or released on bail. District courts have magistrate judges who do much of the judge's routine work. They hear preliminary evidence and determine whether the case should go to trial.

Every federal judicial district has a U.S. attorney- a government lawyer who prosecutes people accused of breaking federal laws. They look into the charges and present the evidence in court. U.S. attorneys also represent the United States in civil cases involving the government.

Every federal judicial district also has a U.S. marshal. They make arrests, collect fines, and take convicted people to prison. They protect jurors, keep order in court, and serve subpoenas ordering people to appear in court.