Structure Of The Federal Courts
Supreme Court of the United States of America
United States Court of Appeals
United States District Courts
The Supreme Court of the United States of America is the highest court of our land. It consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices. At its own discretion the Supreme Court each year hears a limited number of cases it is asked to decide. These accepted cases may have begun in state or federal courts but nearly always involve an important question of law. Once the Supreme Court makes a ruling it is final.
The United States Courts of Appeal are organized into 12 regional circuits. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit.
The United States District Courts are the trial courts of the federal court system. Within limits set by Congress and the Constitution, the district courts have jurisdiction over both criminal and civil disputes. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district court in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States — the Virgin Islands, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands — also have district courts that hear criminal and civil federal cases. There are two types of federal judges at the district court level: federal magistrate judges and federal district court judges. Federal magistrate judges routinely handle first appearances, detention hearings, arraignments, guilty plea hearings and motion hearings while federal district court judges typically handle felony jury trials and sentencing hearings.
Federal district courts and federal circuit courts of appeal are similar to the Supreme Court of the United States. Like the Supreme Court, each of these courts has chief judges. In addition both courts allow judges to retire at age 65 who have met certain requirements. At this point in their careers judges who are 65 years or older may elect “senior judge” status and hear cases on a part-time basis. Senior judges handle approximately 15 to 20 percent of the appellate and district court workloads. Do not be surprised to see a senior judge handling your case if your district court judge has a busy docket or a long trial dominating his or her docket. In the Middle District of Florida, there are currently 12 senior district court judges.