How The Federal Court System Works

By Taylor Malachowski

District Courts

District Courts are the lowest level of the Federal Court and all cases must start here. Original jurisdiction is found at this level and that means that it has the authority to hear the case for the first time.

Fun Fact: A Circuit is the geographic area of the US Court of Appeals.

Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals is the next level of the Federal Court System. Appeals have appellate jurisdiction which means they have the authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court. They don't determine if someone is guilty or innocent; only that the original trial was fair. There are three decisions that can be made: Uphold, Overturn or Remand.

Fun Fact: An opinion explains the legal thinking in the decision of a case in court.

Decisions In Court of Appeals

  • Uphold means to keep the original decision.
  • Overturn means to change the original decision.
  • Remand means to send it back to a lower court.

Fun Fact: A precedent is a model for other judges to follow in similar cases.

Key Players in Federal Court

  • US Marshall: makes arrests, collects fines and takes convicted people to prison.
  • Magistrate Judges: They decide if the accused should be held in jail or placed on bail.
  • US Attorneys: A government lawyer who prosecutes people accused of breaking Federal Laws.
  • Justices: They are the judges in Supreme Court and serve life terms. That means that they hold office for as long as they like.