When you have legal issues presented before the court, there are a number of factors which determine the courthouse in which your case will be handled. Understanding the Oklahoma court system and the federal court system can give a clearer picture of where a case may be decided.
Violations of local ordinances, including traffic violations, parking tickets, low-level crimes, and environmental charges, may be handled in a municipal court. Civil matters and violations of state laws are typically handled through the Oklahoma Court System, beginning in the district courts.
There are 77 District Courts in Oklahoma, and the court in which your case is heard depends upon the county in which a crime was committed or in which a party in filing a civil case resides. For example, if you are accused of assault and battery or DUI in Oklahoma City, your case will likely be handled by the Oklahoma County District Court. If you are involved in an automobile accident near your home in Norman, you would file a personal injury lawsuit in the Cleveland County District Court.
Oklahoma is unique in that it has two courts of last resort. Whereas most states have only one Supreme Court or Superior Court to handle both criminal and civil appeals, the Sooner State has a dual court system. Criminal appeals are handled by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, and civil matters, including matters regarding the state constitution, are handled by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The state of Oklahoma does not have jurisdiction over every criminal act committed within its borders, however. Violations of federal law are subject to prosecution by the United States government. While there is often overlap of state and federal law, there are several reasons why the U.S. will prosecute a case in federal court:
- the act occurred on federal property or tribal land
- the act involves the theft or destruction of federal funds or property
- the act occurs in multiple states, involves interstate commerce, or is otherwise transmitted across state lines
Some crimes are always prosecuted in federal court: federal income tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud, and Medicare fraud, for example. Other crimes, including embezzlement and other white collar crimes and child pornography-related crimes may be handled in either state or federal court, depending on the details of the case.
Federal cases are prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice through the U.S. Attorneys in the federal courts in each state. In Oklahoma, the United States District Court has three locations:
- United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City
- United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa
- United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee
The Western District of Oklahoma is the largest federal court district in the state, representing 40 of the state’s 77 counties.
Federal appeals are handled by one of the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals. Oklahoma is represented by the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Denver, Colorado. The 10th Circuit includes not only Oklahoma and Colorado, but also Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park extending into Montana and Idaho.
It can be difficult to understand why a case is handled in a particular court and what circumstances give local, state, or federal jurisdiction over the matter. Consult an attorney as early as possible in your case to be informed and educated about every step of the process.