Typically, federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over federal offenses and state courts have exclusive jurisdiction over state offenses. In some cases, certain crimes can qualify as both federal and state offenses.
If a crime occurs within a state’s borders or within three miles of its coastline, it will generally be prosecuted in a state court. The exception is if the crime occurred on federal land; then it will usually be considered a federal offense.
States have different courts to handle different state offenses. Felonies committed by adults and misdemeanors are usually divided between different courts, while offenses committed by minors are handled by state juvenile courts.
In general, federal jurisdiction will be in effect when an offense:
- Occurred on property owned or controlled by the federal government
- Crossed state lines or involved interstate commerce
- Occurred on a ship flying the American flag
- Occurred in a foreign country with intent to harm those within the U.S. (i.e., terrorism, cybercrime)
Federal jurisdiction may also apply to crimes that occur on Native American reservations, depending on the severity of the offense and agreements between the tribe and the government.
There are circumstances where more than one court is entitled to hear a case. This includes when a crime is committed in more than one state, or when both state and federal laws are violated. The first court to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant is usually the first court to try the case, unless it releases jurisdiction to another court.
The Cogdell Law Firm is a boutique law firm focusing on large, complex business and criminal financial-related litigation, including white collar criminal defense, securities fraud, health care fraud investigation, criminal appeals and state criminal defense. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at 713-426-2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.