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The United States has a three-tiered form of government with each tier having its own set of specific responsibilities, regulations and rules. These three tiers are the federal, state and local governments.

Each local government must adhere to its state’s laws while each state must adhere to federal laws. However, that does not mean that local and state governments cannot have other laws that are specific to their jurisdiction.

As a result of each form of government having its own legal system, there are differences in the types of cases brought to court and the procedures taken within each type. Oftentimes, cases can move from the local level to the state level and from the state level to the federal level when they are being appealed. The seriousness and importance of the cases increase each type they move up the judicial system ladder.

However, every time a case gets moved around and retried, the lifespan of it is greatly increased, adding to the stress and expenses of all those involved in it. For this reason, it is important to know the differences among local, state and federal jurisdictions and laws.

Local Laws and Offenses

According to the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states and for the people. Local governments fall under “the people” category which means they have the right to pass laws and judgements among many other things.

There are two types of local governments: counties and municipalities. Counties consist of numerous municipalities who all have their own governing bodies including mayors and city councils. Generally, municipalities are in charge of park and recreation services, fire and police departments, public transportation, housing and public works. As a result, specific local laws and regulations usually center around these topics.

The majority of court cases that are handled at the local level are about violations, issues, questions and concerns regarding rent laws, local safety and local zoning. Although municipalities can enforce their own unique laws, they must also abide by all laws set by their states’ governments and the federal government.

State Laws and Offenses

State governments are structured to mirror the federal government with three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Heading the judicial branch of a state government is a state supreme court. No trial will begin in state supreme courts, instead these courts focus on reviewing rulings made in lower state courts such as local courts. The decisions that state supreme courts make are usually binding unless overruled by a federal court.

State judicial branches also consist of appeals courts, circuit courts and special topics courts such as juvenile courts or probate courts. The majority of cases that are ruled on in state courts consist of issues regarding criminal law, probate law, family law, contract cases and tort cases.

Although states have the Constitutional right to make and enforce their own laws, they still must abide by federal laws. The federal government also has the power to overturn state court rulings.

Federal Laws and Offenses

Just like states’ governments, the federal government of the United States is broken into three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The judicial branch of the federal government is headed by the Supreme Court which is the highest court of the country and the only court explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.

The majority of the cases that the Supreme Court handles are of an appellate nature, meaning that the cases have already been ruled on in lower courts. The Supreme Court usually does not hold trials, instead the Supreme Court Justices decide how certain laws pertain to the cases. The findings and rulings of the Supreme Court cannot be overruled and are binding.

Although it is uncommon, some court cases do originate in the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land has jurisdiction over cases that are between states or cases that involve diplomats and ambassadors.

The federal court system is also composed of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the U.S. District Courts, the U.S. Courts of Claims and the U.S. Court of International Trade.

These courts rule on cases that involve bankruptcy, the constitutionality of laws, U.S. treaties and laws, public officials and issues surrounding Habeas Corpus.

When filing a case, it is important to understand the differences among the court systems in the United States. Knowing what category to file your case under is also an essential part of the system.

Learning all the rules and procedures of the United States judicial system can be a long and tiresome task. However, if you hire the right legal team, they can do the hard work for you. At Barfoot & Schoettker, our knowledge staff will help you along every step of the way.

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