What Happens at a Federal Courthouse?

Article Details
  • Written By: Elise Czajkowski
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

A federal courthouse is a venue where legal disputes that are related to national laws are heard in the United States. At the courthouse, cases are filed, tried and decided. In a federal courthouse, only federal cases are heard. State and local cases must be heard at their own separate courthouses.

The federal courts are established by Article III of the United States Constitution and constitute the judiciary branch of the federal government. These courts consist of the U.S. Supreme Court, the courts of appeal, and federal district courts. Federal judges are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Most cases are not eligible to be heard by federal courts and will be tried in state or local courts. Cases that are heard by federal courts include those related to laws and treaties of the US government, disputes between two or more states, or cases involving ambassadors. Federal courts may also hear cases between parties who reside in different states. A federal prisoner can also file for habeas corpus in a federal court, if he or she believes that they are being unlawfully detained.

Trials are held at federal courthouses. In these trials, both sides of a legal dispute are argued, and a judge or jury decides the legal merits of the case. Trials are almost always open to the public, and the transcripts of trials are generally public record.


Several different types of cases are heard at a federal courthouse. A district court will hear both civil and criminal cases, while a bankruptcy court will only hear bankruptcy related cases. An appeals court hears disputes over cases that have been decided by lower courts but appealed by one of the parties.

A federal civil case involves two parties in a legal dispute. At the federal courthouse, the plaintiff will file the case, where it will be entered into the system and assigned to a judge. The defendant in this case will respond, and often, the matter will be settled. If the matter is not settled, a case will proceed to trial, where it will be heard by a judge or jury.

In a federal criminal case, the United States government pursues a defendant for a breach of law. The government convenes a grand jury at the federal courthouse, presenting the evidence of the case to this jury. If the grand jury rules that there is enough evidence, the defendant is arraigned, or read the charges against them, at the federal courthouse, he or she is given the option to plead guilty or not guilty. If the plea is not guilty, the case will then go to trial before another jury.

All bankruptcy cases are federal courthouses, and each bankruptcy court has its own federal courthouse. In bankruptcy, a party who cannot pay its debts files a petition, seeking to be absolved of their debts. If a debtor of the petitioner disputes the bankruptcy petition, litigation related to the bankruptcy will be held at the bankruptcy court.

After a federal decision is made, a party may dispute the decision by taking the case to the appeals court. In a civil case, either side may appeal. in a criminal case, only the defendant may appeal a ruling. Dispute that are not resolved in the appeals court may be sent on the Supreme Court, which hears some federal cases.



Discuss this Article

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?