18 U.S. Code Chapter 211 - Jurisdiction and Venue for Federal Criminal Cases
The United States Court System is a massive legal infrastructure handling more than 50,000 cases per year in hundreds of federal courts across the United States and its territories, including the District Courts in California, such as the Central, Eastern, Northern, and Southern Districts.
To keep everything in order and the caseloads moving as smoothly as possible, the government has established rules and procedures regarding jurisdiction and venue (i.e., which courts handle which cases).
For federal criminal cases, the rules of jurisdiction and venue are embodied in Title 18, U.S. Code Chapter 211. These are the rules for jurisdiction and venue for civil actions, and other cases are contained in other parts of the U.S. Code.
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.”
18 U.S.C. § 3235 says, “The trial of offenses punishable with death shall be had in the county where the offense was committed, where that can be done without great inconvenience.”
In violent crimes, such as murder or manslaughter, the offense will be deemed to have been committed at the place where the injury was inflicted or other means which caused the death, without regard to where the death occurs, as defined under 18 U.S. Code 3236.
Suppose the offense was not committed in any district, such as on the high seas or elsewhere outside a jurisdiction. In that case, 18 U.S. Code 3238 says it will be in the district where the offender is arrested or the district as the offender's last known address. Let's review this federal statute further below.
What Are Jurisdiction and Venue?
Let's begin by discussing the difference between jurisdiction and venue. Jurisdiction refers to a court's power or authority to hear cases or in the case of criminal offenses, the geographical area over which the court exerts authority.
Venue, on the other hand, refers to the specific geographic location of a particular court. A federal District Court, for example, will have jurisdiction over a particular portion of land in a specific state.
At the same time, it oversees several venues (i.e., particular courthouses) within that jurisdiction where cases may be heard.
An Overview of Title 18, Chapter 211
18 U.S.C. Chapter 211 provides detailed information regarding which federal court district will have jurisdiction over your case if you're accused of a federal crime, as well as rules for transferring venues, specific circumstances, and more.
If you're indicted for a federal crime, you'll be instructed which court has jurisdiction over your case and where you should appear. This information is helpful—not so you know where to appear for trial but because you can seek out a defense attorney with specific experience in that court.
Breakdown of Sections of the Law
Let's now offer a brief overview of the various sections of Title 18, U.S. Code Chapter 211, Jurisdiction and Venue:
- 18 U.S.C. 3231: States that federal district courts have "original jurisdiction" regarding federal crimes committed within that district (as opposed to state crimes). In other words, if a federal crime is committed in that district, the federal District Court effectively has priority to try the case, even if the action also violates state law. In most cases, federal courts will defer to the state courts when an action is a crime both at the state and federal level--but this section gives the District Court the "right of refusal," so to speak.
- 18 U.S.C. 3232: Rule stating that for all intents and purposes, federal criminal proceedings are held in the district where the crime was committed.
- 18 U.S.C. 3233: Covers specifics regarding when and how a case may be transferred to different venues within a district.
- 18 U.S.C. 3234: Discusses when and how a case may transfer to a venue in another district, for example, if attorneys don't believe their client can get a fair trial in their local area.
- 18 U.S.C. 3235: States that whenever feasible, capital offenses, crimes where a death penalty is an option, are held in the county where the crime was committed.
- 18 U.S.C. 3236: In cases of murder or manslaughter, the place where the injury was inflicted is considered the site of the murder, not the place where the death occurred. This is significant in cases where the victim dies in a different county or district than where they were initially injured, poisoned, etc.
- 18 U.S.C. 3237: Effectively states that if a federal crime is begun in one district and completed in another, the crime may be prosecuted in either district. Or, in cases where the offense involves multiple districts--such as interstate commerce--the trial may be held in any of them.
- 18 U.S.C. 3238: Discusses how a jurisdiction or venue will be determined if the crime does not occur in any U.S. district, such as on the high seas.
- 18 U.S.C. 3239: Effectively says that for crimes of espionage and related offenses originating outside the U.S., any district may try the case.
- 18 U.S.C. 3240: States that when a new district is established and defined, existing cases in that district will be treated as though the new district had not been created unless the defendant requests it and the court grants it.
- 18 U.S.C. 3241: Defines the jurisdictions of certain districts outside the U.S., such as the Canal Zone and the Virgin Islands.
- 18 U.S.C. 3242: Gives the federal courts primary jurisdiction over "Major Crimes" committed in Indian territories (see Title 18 Section 1153).
- 18 U.S.C. 3243: Gives the State of Kansas jurisdiction over crimes committed on Indian territories and reservations within the state.
- 18 U.S.C. 3244: Covers the rules of jurisdiction over offenders transferred between the U.S. and countries with which the U.S. has treaty agreements.
If you are under investigation or have already been indicted for a federal crime, contact our law firm by phone or through the contact form for a case review. The federal criminal defense lawyers of Eisner Gorin LLP are located in Los Angeles, California.