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Types of federal courts

In some cases, felonies might be heard in federal courts, especially during any type of appeal process. Among other things, federal courts hear cases related to whether the law or legal actions are constitutional, which is sometimes a basis of a criminal appeal.

The federal court system has a number of types and levels of courts. The trial courts are known as the district courts, and there are 94 such courts throughout the country. The court usually operates with a judge and a jury; some courts have magistrate judges to assist the district judge. The magistrate judges might also act as the trial judge in federal misdemeanor cases.

Every state houses at least one of these courts, and some territories, such as Puerto Rico, also have a U.S. district court. In addition to the district courts, which can hear a variety of cases from criminal to civil, there are some special courts. Special courts include the Court of International Trade, Court of Federal Claims, Court of Appeals for Veterans, Tax Court and Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Each of these courts hears cases related to specific topics or individuals.

Above the district courts, are 13 appeals courts. The districts are divided into circuits -- there are 12 circuits. Each circuit has an appellate court, which includes three judges to review appeals. Juries are not involved in appellate court processes.

Above the appellate courts is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest judiciary in the land; a panel of judges on the Court reviews appeals that the Court decides to hear. Moving all the way up to the Supreme Court is rare, making it essential to present a solid case at trial and appellate levels.

Source: United States Courts, "Court Role and Structure," accessed Sep. 18, 2015

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