Navigating the criminal justice system can be difficult, in no small part because there are actually 51 different court systems in the United States. Each state has their own court system, and then there is the federal court system.

Generally speaking, the state courts handle violations of state law. Meanwhile, the federal court handles federal laws, or crimes that a person committed across state lines. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the best way to figure out where your particular case will be is to ask your attorney.

Where else can I get this information?

Outside of conversing with your attorney, you can also call the courthouse where you will make an appearance. If you speak to the clerk of court, you can get clarification about which court the case is in.

Additionally, the first page of any document related to your case should state what court system will hear the case. If your paperwork says “US District Court,” this means that it is being held in federal court. If the top of the page says anything else, this indicates a state court hearing.

Who makes the decision between state or federal prosecution?

This is entirely up to state and federal prosecutors. There is nothing that a defendant can do to change this decision. It is also possible for both the state and federal courts to prosecute for the same crime.

If the prosecutors levy charges at both the state and federal level, there will be two separate proceedings even though they will address the same crime. The decision to prosecute in both state and federal court if applicable is, again, completely up to the prosecutors.