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DC Court System

When a person is charged with a crime, it is imperative that they know where the case will be heard and what they should expect in court. A DC criminal defense lawyer can provide further information on where their case will be heard, as well as the proper procedures they should follow once in court. For more specific information or to begin building a defense, call and schedule a consultation with an attorney today.

Courts in DC

In DC, unlike many other jurisdictions where there is a city court, circuit court, and a justice court, there is only a superior court where all criminal cases are filed and prosecuted. If a person is charged with a federal crime, their case will be prosecuted at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Additionally, because DC is not a state and because it is a smaller jurisdiction, it does not have two levels of appellate courts for superior court cases like most jurisdictions. Instead, Washington, DC just has the DC Court of Appeals. As far as the United States Supreme Court, these cases would have to be litigated through the appellate process in state or federal court. This is because even though The United States Supreme Court sits in DC, it is not specific to the DC Superior Court state-level cases.

Unique Aspects of The DC Court System

There is an exception in certain misdemeanor cases in Superior Court. These cases may be handled by a magistrate judge, which is one level below a Superior Court associate judge. In these cases, if an individual wants to appeal a verdict by a magistrate judge, first they appeal to an associate judge and then if they want to appeal further the case will go to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. However, this only happens with a limited number of misdemeanor cases.

Important Information about the DC Courts

It is important to know that DC is very peculiar in that most cases are prosecuted by the United States Attorneys’ Office for the District of Columbia. This means that criminal cases are being prosecuted by federal prosecutors, even though it is being prosecuted in DC Superior Court, which is not a federal court. Because DC is not a state, it does not have what most jurisdictions refer to as a district attorney.

The District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General has about a dozen assistant attorney generals who handle cases. In general, that office handles misdemeanor offenses which are mostly traffic offenses. For example, someone who is charged with a DUI will be prosecuted in Superior Court by an assistant attorney general from that office.

All felonies and the majority of other crimes will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office. A person who is charged with simple assault, such as getting into a fight on the street in DC, would have their case prosecuted by the US Attorney’s office and their case will be titled United States vs. John Smith. It would not be listed as the District of Columbia vs. John Smith and the person would be prosecuted by a federal prosecutor.