A district court
is the lowest court in the United States federal court system
. There are a total of 94 district courts, each serving a specified district
of a state
: the smallest states constitute a district of their own, and larger states are divided into two, three, or four. Guam
, the U.S. Virgin Islands
, and the Northern Mariana Islands
also have district courts.
The district court's jurisdiction is, roughly, as follows:
- Cases of federal law
- Cases where the U.S. federal government is a party
- Cases where citizens of different states are suing each other for a value over $75,000 (diversity jurisdiction)
- Cases where two or more state governments are parties
- Cases where a foreign government or citizen is a party
- Cases where an ambassador or consul is a party
Together, the 650-odd judges of the nation's district courts hear about 300,000 cases every year. The average federal judge hears about 400 civil cases and 70 criminal cases in a year: he can expect to see one grand jury
and ten trial juries
during the same period. Around 200,000 juror
s serve on district court trials each year.
About a quarter of the district courts' criminal cases are related to drugs. Fraud, larceny, embezzlement, and immigration violations make up a large portion of the remainder. Civil cases run the gamut from torts to civil rights cases to labor laws. In addition to their civil and criminal roles, the district courts are also where bankruptcy cases are heard: however, these are handled by special bankruptcy judges separate from the district court's own judges.
District courts also run the 85,000-ex-con-strong federal probation system, and provide public defenders to 45,000 defendants each year.
Appeals from the district courts are sent to one of the United States Courts of Appeals, and if the planets are aligned properly, they may end up in the hands of the justices of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.