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jurisdiction

n. the authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. It is vital to determine before a lawsuit is filed which court has jurisdiction. State courts have jurisdiction over matters within that state, and different levels of courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits involving different amounts of money. For example, Superior Courts (called District or County Courts in several states) generally have sole control of lawsuits for larger sums of money, domestic relations (divorces), probate of estates of deceased persons, guardianships, conservatorships and trials of felonies. In some states (like New York) probate and certain other matters are within the jurisdiction of so-called Surrogate Courts. Municipal courts (or other local courts) have jurisdiction over cases involving lesser amounts of money, misdemeanors (crimes not punishable by state prison), traffic matters and preliminary hearings on felony charges to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial by the Superior Court. Some states have police courts to handle misdemeanors. Jurisdiction in the courts of a particular state may be determined by the location of real property in a state (in rem jurisdiction), or whether the parties are located within the state (in personam jurisdiction). Thus, a probate of Marsha Blackwood's estate would be in Idaho where she lived and died, but jurisdiction over her title to real estate in Utah will be under the jurisdiction of the Utah courts. Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between citizens of different states, cases based on federal statutes such as fair labor standards and antitrust violations, charges of federal crimes, appeals from bankruptcy proceedings, maritime cases or legal actions involving federal constitutional questions. Sometimes regulatory agencies have the initial jurisdiction before any legal action may be filed in court. More than one court may have concurrent jurisdiction, such as both state and federal courts, and the lawyer filing the lawsuit may have to make a tactical decision as to which jurisdiction is more favorable or useful to his/her cause, including time to get to trial, the potential pool of jurors or other considerations. Appellate jurisdiction is given by statute to appeals courts to hear appeals about the judgment of the lower court that tried a case, and to order reversal or other correction if error is found. State appeals are under the jurisdiction of the state appellate courts, while appeals from federal district courts are within the jurisdiction of the courts of appeal and eventually the Supreme Court. Jurisdiction is not to be confused with "venue," which means the best place to try a case. Thus, any state court may have jurisdiction over a matter, but the "venue" is in a particular county.

See also: district court  municipal court  police court  Superior Court  Supreme Court  venue 

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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications

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