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Federal crimes and the role of a U.S. District Court

Most Spokane-area residents who are charged with a crime will probably be charged at the local level - that is, a Spokane police officer, or an officer of another local city, will likely be the one to initiate charges against someone. This tends to be true whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony; it is also true regarding the common civil traffic offenses that many people have had to deal with at one point or another.

There are additional types of criminal charges, though, that someone in the local area could find themselves facing. Certain drug-related offenses, for instance, could land a local resident in legal trouble and they could potentially face federal drug charges as a consequence. Other offenses that could lead to federal charges include kidnapping, online child pornography, certain forms of larceny and others. Navigating the federal court system - or any court system, for that matter - can be incredibly confusing and intimidating for someone who has just been charged with a crime. A criminal defense attorney can serve as a critical resource during such a time.

In Spokane, there is a U.S. District Court that has jurisdiction over the Eastern District of Washington, composed of 20 counties. Courtrooms for this district are located not only in Spokane, but also in Richland and Yakima. A District Court is a type of federal court which typically serves as a trial court. Additional types of federal courts include bankruptcy courts, courts of appeals and perhaps the most well-known federal court, the U.S. Supreme Court. There are 94 District Courts spread across the country, with at least one in each state.

These important trial courts generally employ both district judges, who decide many cases, and the magistrate judges who assist them. Juries also serve in U.S. District Courts. In general, a case is decided in a U.S. District Court using many of the same legal principles as in state courts, but the laws involved and the workings of the court itself can be quite different.

Source: uscourts.gov, "Court role and structure," accessed Dec. 12, 2015

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