The Federal Court System

Module 6 Lesson 1 Mastery Assignment: Mindy Tran

How the Federal Court System Works

The Federal court system works with all of these components:

District Courts

Federal Courts where trials are held and lawsuits are begun. Each state has 1-3 district courts. In federal cases, district courts have original jurisdiction. District courts also hear civil and criminal cases. Lastly, district courts are the only federal courts to have witnesses and juries.

Original Jurisdiction

- the authority to hear a case for the first time

Magistrate Judge

Each district court has a magistrate judge who decides if the accused should be held in jail or released on bail. They also hear preliminary evidence to determine if a case should go to trial.

U.S. Attorney

Every federal judicial district has a U.S. attorney, who is a government lawyer that prosecutes people accused of breaking Federal laws. They also represent the U.S. in civil cases involving the government.

U.S. Marshal

Every district court also has a U.S. marshal who makes arrests, collects fines, and takes convicted people to prison.

Court of Appeals

The next level for people who lost in district courts is going to a U.S. Court of Appeals. A U.S. Court of Appeals is a federal court goes through appellate jurisdiction. There are twelve U.S. court of appeals and they are covering the nation by circuits. There is also a thirteenth court of appeals - the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which has nationwide jurisdiction. They review case records and listen to lawyers' arguments. Members are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.

These federal court judges are serving life terms.

There are three possible outcomes of the hearing: the court upholds the original decision, reverse it, or remands the case.

One judge also writes an opinion which explains the legal reasoning behind the court's decision. These opinions set precedents for other judges to follow in similar cases.


- appellate jurisdiction: reviewing decisions made in lower district courts

- circuit: particular geographic areas

- life term: serving for however long a judge wants to serve

- remand: send the case back to be tried in the district court

- opinion: legal thinking of a court's decision in a case

- precedent: a model to follow for judges in similar cases based on former decisions made in court