State Court vs. Federal Court

This is a discussion of the differences between state and federal court.  Tim has over 100 jury trials and practices in both systems.  Kentucky’s State court system involves the District and Circuit courts.  In civil cases, a limit of $5,000 determines in which court a case will be heard.  Matters under $5,000 remain in the District court.  Probate, Mental Inquests and Disability cases remain in District.  Criminal law cases can be either District or Circuit.  If the misdemeanor case carries a maximum sentence of 12 months or less, it typically remains in District Court.  Circuit Courts will handle most felony, criminal cases.  Family Court is a hybrid.  Real estate cases (ownership, boundary issues, etc.) come under the Circuit Court system.

The Federal Court system is a court of the United States of America.  Civil cases are handled by the Federal Court if it involves federal question in the complaint or there has to be diversity of citizenship between the plaintiffs and the defendants and the amount in question exceeds $75,000.  Bankruptcy is handled in the Federal system or by an 6th Circuit appellate court.

Civil matters can be brought in State or Federal.  A petition can be filed to have the case removed to Federal Court.  Summary judgements are generally easier to obtain in the Federal Court.

Federal criminal cases are determined by a violation of the United States code.  Crimes prosecuted by the US Attorney’s office include both misdemeanors and felonies.  Federal misdemeanors are handled by a magistrate judge.  A criminal case being handled by federal prosecutors is generally a very strong case.

Interestingly, under the legal doctrine of “separate sovereigns” it’s possible for a defendant who is found not guilty at the state level, to then be charged at the federal level – for the same crime – and it wouldn’t fall under double-jeopardy.  It’s relatively rare, but it can happen.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

In State Court, for example with a Circuit Court felony, the judge will generally honor a sentencing agreement made between the prosecution and defense.  If no agreement is reached, the State Court can impose a sentence, and may use discretion in so doing.

In Federal Court, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines enable a judge to calculate the value of the base offense and the defendant’s criminal history along with the amount of loss involved.  This table (grid), typically assigns a number.  Other factors such as relevant conduct, mitigating/aggregating circumstances are also considered.

The Guidelines are always considered.  They used to be mandatory.  Now, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are “advisory” instead of mandatory.  The Federal judge has a good amount of discretion and latitude.  They often sentence within the Guidelines.  Sometimes they will depart downward, which means they may render a sentence at the low-end of the range, or lower.  If the prosecutor and the defense attorney reach an agreement regarding the sentence, the judge often follows the agreed upon motion.

In criminal cases, the prosecutor determines whether the case is litigated in the State or Federal Court system.  In civil cases, your attorney may decide to pursue the case in either system.  Mediation is often involved with cases in either system.

Talk to Tim

Tim’s office phone number is (502) 589-6916.  You can learn more via  Tim’s principal office is located at:  235 South 5th St., Third Floor, Louisville, KY 40202.  The information from this podcast is for informational purposes only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.  Co-host Jim Ray is a non-attorney spokesperson.  This is an attorney advertisement.