In many legal systems, there are both state and federal, or national, courts. Some legal systems also have local courts that usually handle civil issues where a limited amount of money is in controversy or less serious criminal offenses. In a federal republic, such as the United States or the United Mexican States, the legal systems afford parties the right to local trials, state trials, and federal trials. As a rule, state trials consist of prosecutions for state laws and most civil actions where the parties are both residents of the state.
Whether a case is filed in a local, state, or federal court is determined by which court has jurisdiction over the parties or the subject matter. Within the United States, criminal law cases are generally filed in a county court if the defendant allegedly committed a state crime. Although the court system is divided into counties for jurisdictional purposes, the state itself is still the party prosecuting the case. As a result, state trials for criminal cases are held in the county court where the crime took place in most cases.
Minor criminal infractions, such as traffic infractions, may be held in a smaller, township, or small claims court. More serious crimes that are considered a violation of United States federal law will be filed and tried in a federal court. In some cases, both the state and the federal government have concurrent jurisdiction which can result in a case being tried at either the state or federal level, or in both courts.
Civil lawsuits may also result in local trials, state trials, or federal trials. Which court system has jurisdiction over a civil matter is often more complicated than a criminal matter. Many court systems have township or small claims courts that handle a limited amount of civil legal disputes. As a rule, local courts such as these only handle monetary disputes where the amount in controversy is under a certain dollar amount.
Civil state trials can be based on a wide range of subjects, including divorce, contract disputes, and personal injury cases, among others. Generally, state courts only have jurisdiction when the parties to the case are residents of the state or the subject matter of the lawsuit arose in the state, although there are a number of exceptions to those rules. Federal civil court cases must usually have a diversity of citizenship element and/or the amount in controversy must exceed a certain dollar amount.