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District Court and Circuit Court

Posted on 05/28/19 by Malloy Law Offices in Appeals,Personal Injury

What is the Difference Between District Court and Circuit Court?

We have all watched TV shows and movies depicting lawyers matching wits in a courtroom, trying to gain a successful verdict for their client. Though one can clearly see they are in a courtroom, it is not always obvious what kind. It may not matter to the plot of the show, but there are distinct roles played by the various courts. Two such courts are district courts and circuit courts. Both are important, but they provide unique functions.
The United States has numerous courts at both the state and federal level. Where a case will be tried depends on where the charges were filed and what they entail. District court and circuit court fall under the federal system.

District Court

District court, also known as the lower court, is where federal cases begin their journey. The District Court of the United States spans 94 geographical areas and employs on average over 600 judges.


Points of interest:

  • It is the trial court of the federal system.
  • Criminal and civil cases can be brought to this court, as well as challenges to federal law.
  • Judges are appointed by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate.
  • Judges serve a life term, but can be impeached.
  • Magistrate judges often assist district court judges prepare cases for trial.
  • Juries can be utilized.
  • Each case is assigned one district court judge.
  • Every district court includes its own bankruptcy court.

Circuit Court

Circuit court, more often referred to as the U.S. Court of Appeals, has a far different role. It is where cases tried at the district level can be appealed. The federal circuit court is comprised of 13 courts. Each district court falls under a specific circuit court in regard to the appellate process.

Points of interest:

  • It is where the verdict of a district court trial can be challenged.
  • It hears appeals from federal administration agencies.
  • Judges are nominated by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate.
  • Judges serve a life term, but can be impeached.
  • There are around 180 circuit court judges at any one time. As with the district court, the number fluctuates slightly from year to year.
  • Cases are heard by a panel of three circuit court judges.
  • Juries are not used.
  • Circuit courts have a wide jurisdiction and can hear issues of trade and patent.

What is Above the District and Circuit Courts?

If a case has been tried in the district court and appealed to the circuit court, there is only one place left to appeal – the U.S. Supreme Court. Only a small percent of the federal cases appealed at the circuit court level ever make it before the supreme court. On average, they accept 70 of the 7,000 cases petitioned.

The supreme court is the only one of the three courts specifically established in the U.S. Constitution. The other two were established by congress as granted by the constitution. The supreme court decides which cases it will review, and justices are particular since they only get to hear a handful of cases per year.