The Federal Court System

how it works

Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch interprets the law. This branch can be found in Article 3 in the Constitution.

District Court

This is the lowest level of federal court. The district court has an original jurisdiction, meaning the authority to hear the case for the first time. Each district has a magistrate judge, who decides whether the accused should be held on bail or sent to jail. They do much of the judges routine work. They hear preliminary evidence and decide whether case should go to trial.

US Court of Appeals

This is the Intermediate level court. They review decisions made in lower courts, which is appellate jurisdiction, the ability to hear reviews from lower courts. Each of the 12 US Courts of Appeal cover certain geographical areas, called circuits. Judges in appeals courts can decide in three ways: uphold the decision (which means going by precedent-going by decisions from earlier court cases and judges), reverse the decision, or remand the case, send it back to a lower court to be tried again. One appellate judge writes the opinion, or legal thinking behind the court's decision in the case. All federal judges serve for life terms, their whole life, and are appointed by the president.

US Attorneys

Every federal district has a US attorney. A US attorney prosecutes people who have been accused of breaking federal law. They present the evidence in court, and also represent the US in civil cases involving the government.

US Marshals

Every US federal district has a marshal. They make arrests, collect fines, and take convicted people to jail. They also protect jurors, keep order in the court, and serve the papers that tell people to appear in court.