WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MUNICIPAL COURT, DISTRICT COURT AND FEDERAL COURT?
In Kansas, there are different types of courts that a person accused of a crime may end up in. To be clear there are hundreds of courts but only three types of court. To determine what court you are going to be in, it largely depends on what law the government alleges that you have broken. If the government alleges you have broken a federal law you end up in federal court; if the government alleges you broke a state law you end up in district court; if the government alleges you broke a city law you will always begin in municipal court. Each of these courts has limited jurisdiction and can only hear certain cases. In some instances their jurisdiction overlaps and your case may be able to be heard in more than one court.
Municipal Court: This is the base level of court in Kansas. Most populous cities have a municipal court. In municipal court a judge will hear cases brought by the city prosecutor in which the prosecutor alleges that a city law was broken. The prosecutor represents the city in these cases. Laws vary from one city to another city, what is legal in one city may be illegal in another city. If a person is accused of breaking a city law they can always retain a lawyer to represent them. The most serious crimes that can be heard in a municipal court are crimes in which are punishable by up to one year in jail. The judgment of a municipal court judge is always able to be appealed if done in a timely manner. Once a defendant is sentenced on a case they have 14 days to appeal that decision. If the defendant appeals the case is reviewed “de novo” at the district court. Crimes that are routinely charged in city court include:
Each municipal court has its own processes and procedures. What is “standard” in one municipal court can be completely different than in another municipal court. Some municipal courts are very harsh on people that break the law others are very lenient. If you are charged in a municipal court it is best to speak with a criminal defense lawyer that has extensive experience in that court. Some of the common municipal courts in Johnson County include:
District Court: The district court or county court as it is commonly referred to is the largest and most powerful court in the county. The district court hears two different types of cases, civil cases and criminal cases. When it comes to criminal cases brought in the district court there are two different types of criminal cases.
Cases involving violations of State law. The district attorney prosecutes violations of Kansas state law. These cases include drug felonies, non-drug felonies, off grid felonies, infractions and all unclassified and classified misdemeanors. State law violations can carry with them a wide range of punishment including fines, probation, jail or prison.
Cases involving violations of City law that have been appealed from a municipal court. If a defendant chooses to appeal a case that was previously decided in a municipal court the district court will hear the case and is not beholden to the municipal court’s decision. The city prosecutor prosecutes violation of city law even when the case is appealed to the district court. These cases include infractions and misdemeanors. City law violations can carry punishments including fines, probation or jail time up to one year.
The district court is very different than most municipal courts. The district court is more formal, will require more court appearances by the defendant, it has more procedural safeguards and it has the ability to have trials to a jury. There are advantageous and disadvantages to having your case heard in the district court depending on whom you choose to be the fact finder. For more information see, “What is the Difference between a Bench Trial and a Jury Trial.”
Federal Court: This is the base level court for the federal criminal justice system. If the government believes that you have broken a federal law then your case will be heard in the federal court. There are a few exceptions in unique circumstances, for example, committing a crime on Tribal land. The federal court handles a very small amount of cases compared to the municipal and state district courts. Federal court is even more formal than state court. If you find yourself accused of a federal offense you need to seek out an attorney that is familiar with federal criminal defense practice. There is only one federal court in the entire state of Kansas.