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The right or power of a court, agency, or department to try a case or resolve a problem.


Jurisdiction is the right of a court or government entity such as the police department or FBI to make decisions and orders regarding a case or issue. Jurisdiction refers to the right of a party or entity over someone or something. In other words, it is the authority of a legal entity to administer the law over a specified area or location. Jurisdiction applies to local, state, federal authority based on the case and where it occurred.

For example, if a dispute between two parties occurred in California, either the local or state court will have jurisdiction over the matter, unless the dispute involved federal law.

When the term is referred, it commonly refers to a court having jurisdiction over a legal matter. However, there are other instances when the term will be used. It is said that parents have jurisdiction over their kids until they are adults.

How Jurisdiction Affects Legal Outcomes

A fundamental question regarding jurisdiction is whether a specific court has jurisdiction over a case. To determine this, one must know where the act occurred, whether it crossed state lines, and if the issue at hand involved the matter for which the court is responsible for administering. For example, a divorce case will not be tried in the supreme court, just as a money dispute below $5,000 will not be determined in federal court. Knowing which court has jurisdiction over a particular legal matter is vital to estimating the legal risk of going to court or settling prior to going to trial.

Oftentimes lawyers and other legal professionals make decisions about settling a case and/or going to court depending on which court has jurisdiction over the case. For example, a state with liberal laws is more likely to penalize a gun possession case than a conservative state. Lawyers must determine the jurisdiction of the court and the likely legal outcome based on the history of the court that has jurisdiction over the legal matter.

Authority Granted by a Court’s Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction authority of a given court is granted by the power of the constitution or the legislation that states the rights of legal bodies. State courts have the ability to process any general case, other than those expressly prohibited by law such as federal or bankruptcy cases.

Federal law determines the jurisdiction of the various courts. Deciding which court has the authority to try a case is based on the subject matter of the case and the parties of the case. Cases involving subject matter are referred to as rem jurisdiction, while cases regarding people is called persona jurisdiction.

The jurisdiction of a case concerning property is determined based on where the property is located. This is an example of rem jurisdiction.

Types of Jurisdiction

Some courts only have the designation of being called an original jurisdiction court. This type of court can only try cases originally brought into courts and not appeals. Courts that can try appeals have appellate jurisdiction.

A general jurisdiction court can try cases of all kinds. This includes cases involving fraud, theft, and others. A specific jurisdiction can only try cases for which they have been assigned. An example of this is a bankruptcy or small claims court.

The State and Federal Supreme Court can decide which cases they try. They are the only court that has the jurisdiction to choose the appeal cases they wish. Typically, the only cases that the state and federal supreme court tries are cases that would settle the import issues of society such as about consumer rights, land rights, political debates, immigration law, and other controversial issues of the day. Furthermore, supreme courts are the only court that has the jurisdiction to hear cases of any subject matter and people.

The Supreme Court has ultimate authority. They can exercise both original and jurisdiction and can try cases of any kind including those involving a foreign country.