Federal court does not necessarily mean your case is more serious. The main difference between state and federal courts is jurisdiction, or the type of cases a court has authority to hear.
State courts can hear a wide range of cases. Generally, these cases involve an individual person. Types of cases tried in a state court might include family disputes, traffic violations, personal injury lawsuits and most contract cases. Because the majority of laws are passed by the state government, state courts generally handle the bulk of cases concerning day-to-day life.
State courts are also comprised of local courts. Cities and counties within a state establish the local courts, which hear the same types of cases as state courts.
Federal courts can only hear a select group of cases. The main types of cases federal courts hear include:
- Cases involving the Constitution, federal laws or treaties
- Cases involving bankruptcy, patent, copyright, antitrust, criminal and employment discrimination issues
- Disputes between two different states or residents of two different states for claims exceeding $75,000
- Cases that list the United States as the plaintiff or defendant
- Cases involving international governments or maritime law
- Crimes committed on federal land or involving federal firearm licenses
- Drug trafficking and white-collar crimes
Another important distinction to note is that penalties for criminal offenses in federal court are often harsher than state courts. Additionally, litigation can be much more expensive at the federal level, and you also face the massive resources and reach of the federal government if your case goes to federal court.
Whether your civil or criminal case goes to state or federal court, it can be crucial to have legal representation. Working with an attorney licensed and experienced to litigate in both settings can therefore be valuable.