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What is the difference between federal and state law?

As you may know, there are two types of courts in the United States. There is the federal court system and the state court system. While federal laws apply to everyone in the United States, state laws apply only to the people who are in a particular state. Although there are also what are known as local laws, they are actually somewhat grouped in with state laws because the local laws only apply to people in a particular state and then only in a particular area of the state.

Federal courts have jurisdiction throughout the United States and these laws apply to every state. It is the state courts that have the broader jurisdiction, however, so it stands to reason that people are typically more likely to break a state law than they are to break a federal law.

Some examples of cases that state courts would have jurisdiction over could include robberies, DUIs and homicides, as well as broken contracts, family disputes and traffic violations. State courts can actually hear almost any type of case except for lawsuits brought against the United States and cases that involve very specific federal laws such as bankruptcy, patent, copyright, antitrust, criminal and even some types of maritime cases.

In some cases, a law may be broken that both the federal and state court have jurisdiction over. When this occurs, the involved parties will usually make a determination as to which court system has jurisdiction. Since federal laws often carry stiffer penalties, particularly when violent crimes or crimes against children have occurred, a state court may choose to dismiss the charges filed in that court so that a defendant may be charged in federal court and face more time in prison if they are convicted.

If you have questions about federal or Wisconsin state laws, visit our criminal defense webpage here.

Source: Kohn and Smith, “Milwaukee Underage Pornography Defense Lawyers” Aug. 26, 2014

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