Difference Between State Courts And Federal Courts

The two major types of courts in the United States are the state courts (also included in this are local city and county courts) and federal courts. This article discusses the differences between the two court systems.

State Court

State and local court systems are created and established by states. State courts have very broad jurisdiction, meaning that they are authorized to hear a wide variety cases. They typically hear more of the day-to-day cases. They cannot, however, hear cases of lawsuits against the United States or cases that involve federal laws.

Some examples of the types of cases state courts can hear:

  • Family disputes
  • Wills and estates
  • Personal Injury
  • Marriage, divorce, and adoptions
  • Breaches of contracts
  • Traffic violations
  • DUI
  • Robberies

Federal Court

While state courts are established by the state, federal courts are established under the U.S. Constitution. The federal court is limited to hearing cases involving the Constitution, federal laws, or cases where the U.S. is a party. For these reasons, federal courts often hear far fewer cases than the state courts.

Some examples of the types of cases federal courts can hear:

  • Patent and copyright
  • Criminal
  • Disputes between citizens in different states if the amount at stake exceeds $75,000
  • Admirality law
  • Issues of habeas corpus
  • Antitrust
  • Bankruptcy

Both courts have jurisdiction?

In the case that both the state court and the federal court have jurisdiction, sometimes the parties involved in the case may choose which court. Other times, however, if a state and a federal law are violated, such as a case that involves robbing a federally insured bank; those cases are prosecuted at the federal court level.


Typically, decisions in the federal courts are more widely heard about than state court decisions. The cases that usually gain national attention are the Supreme Court decisions because they involve upholding and protecting federal rights. State court decisions that gain the attention of news outlets tend to involve celebrities.


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