Jurisdiction and Venue

What Are the Rules Regarding Jurisdiction and Venue for Federal Criminal Cases?

The federal criminal justice system is a vast and complex legal structure that handles thousands of cases annually throughout the United States.

The term “jurisdiction” means a federal court has the power to hear criminal cases within its territory. “Venue” represents the geographical location of a particular federal courthouse.

A defendant has a right to be tried in a forum where the crime was committed, as described under Article III, Section 2, Constitution of the United States; Sixth Amendment.  However, this "right" may be waived, but absent a waiver, the government's case fails for lack of proof of venue.

The necessity of proving venue does not require it to be alleged in the indictment. The information should be included in the indictment to avoid filing a bill of particulars to discover where the offense was committed.  The venue must be proved at trial by the government by a preponderance of the evidence, and proof may be by direct or circumstantial evidence.

To keep all these issues moving forward as quickly as possible, the government has rules and procedures about jurisdiction and venue, such as which specific courts handle which federal criminal cases.

The rules on jurisdiction and venue are defined under Title 18, U.S. Code Chapter 211. These rules cover criminal cases, civil actions, and others. Let's review this topic further below.

What Does the Federal Law Say?

18 U.S.C. 3231 says, “The district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States. Nothing in this title shall be held to take away or impair the jurisdiction of the courts of the several States under the laws thereof.”

Title 18 U.S. Code Chapter 211 - Jurisdiction and Venue
Jurisdiction means that a federal criminal court has the authority to hear cases within it's territory.

18 U.S.C. 3236 says, “In all cases of murder or manslaughter, the offense shall be deemed to have been committed at the place where the injury was inflicted, or the poison administered or other means employed which caused the death, without regard to the place where the death occurs.”

18 U.S.C. 3237 says, “…any offense against the United States begun in one district and completed in another… may be inquired of and prosecuted in any district in which such offense was begun, continued, or completed.

Any offense involving the use of the mail, transportation in interstate or foreign commerce, or the importation of an object or person into the United States is a continuing offense and may be prosecuted in any district from, through, or into which such commerce… or person moves.”

In violent crimes, such as murder, the offense will be considered committed where the killing occurred as defined under 18 U.S. Code 3236.

If the offense were not committed in any district, such as on the high seas, it would be handled where the alleged perpetrator was arrested or in the district of their last known address, as defined under 18 U.S. Code 3238.

Difference Between Jurisdiction and Venue

As noted, jurisdiction refers to a court's authority to hear criminal cases from their geographical area. Venue refers to the specific geographic location of a particular federal district court. For example, a specific court will have jurisdiction over a certain portion of land in a state.

Title 18, Chapter 211 – Breakdown

18 U.S.C. Chapter 211 Jurisdiction and Venue outlines which federal court district will have authority when you are indicted for a federal offense, along with dealing with transferring venues and specific circumstances. You will be told which federal district court has jurisdiction over your case and where to appear.

Below is a brief review of all the different sections of Title 18, U.S. Code Chapter 211, Jurisdiction and Venue:

  • 18 U.S.C. 3231 - District courts say that federal district courts have original jurisdiction about federal offenses committed in their district. Simply put, the federal district court can try the case, even if it also violated state law. However, federal courts will typically defer to the state courts, but they hold the "right of refusal."
  • 18 U.S.C. 3232 - District of offense are rules for federal criminal proceedings in the district where the crime was committed.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3233 - Transfer within district describes when and how a case can be transferred to different venues within a district.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3234 - Change of venue to another covers when and how a case may transfer to a venue in another district, such as when the defense lawyer believes they can't get a fair trial in the local area.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3235 - Venue in capital cases says that when a death penalty is an option, it should be held in the county where it was committed.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3236 - Says, “In all cases of murder or manslaughter, the offense will be deemed committed at the place where the injury was inflicted, or the poison administered or other means which caused the death, without regard to the place where the death occurs.”
  • 18 U.S.C. 3237 - Offenses begun in one district and completed in another say that if a federal crime started in one district and finished in another, the crime can be prosecuted in either district. If the crimes involved multiple districts, a trial can be held in any of them.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3238 - Offenses not committed in any district covers how a jurisdiction will be decided if the crime didn't happen in any of the districts, such as the high seas.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3239 - Optional venues for espionage and related offenses say that any district may try the case.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3240 - Creation of new district or division, say when a new district is established, existing cases will be treated as though the new district had not been created unless requested and granted.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3241 - Jurisdiction of offenses under certain sections covers certain districts outside the U.S., such as the Virgin Islands.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3242 - Indians committing certain offenses; acts on reservations give federal courts jurisdiction over major crimes. Indian territories as defined under 18 U.S. Code 1153 offenses within Indian country.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3243 - Jurisdiction of the State of Kansas over offenses committed by or against Indians on Indian reservations gives Kansas jurisdiction over crimes committed within the state.
  • 18 U.S.C. 3244 - Jurisdiction of proceedings relating to transferred offenders covers rules over offenders transferred between the U.S. and countries with which they have treaty agreements.

This information helps determine where you should seek out a federal criminal defense attorney with specific in that court.

The Hedding Law Firm provides legal representation on federal criminal matters throughout the United States. We are in Los Angeles, California, and offer a free case evaluation.

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