Criminal jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear and determine a case in which a crime has been committed. Criminal jurisdiction is determined in multiple ways. The central government of a nation, the national court of a country, the type of crime and geographic location play the largest role in the determination of criminal jurisdiction.
The central governments of countries determine criminal jurisdiction for court cases based on their constitutions. In some countries, criminal cases will be heard and decided in a national court, while in most nations, criminal cases will be heard in local courts found in states, provinces and counties. For example, in the United States, the Constitution specifically grants criminal jurisdiction to state and local courts.
The type of criminal action committed has a great deal of influence on which court will have jurisdiction. Criminal acts that directly threaten a national government are most often tried in a national or superior court. In the United States, the Constitution grants authority to federal courts for specific crimes that are national matters. For example, federal courts are responsible for hearing and deciding criminal cases about counterfeiting, treason and criminal activity on the high seas, such as piracy.
Geographic location plays a part in the determination of jurisdiction when a criminal arrest is made. The criminal case will be tried in the court where a criminal is arrested. In the event of concurrent jurisdiction, which is when two or more courts have jurisdiction, the parties involved typically petition to have their case tried in the court which will be most beneficial to them.
In addition to national and local courts having criminal jurisdiction, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has worldwide criminal jurisdiction. Located in The Hague in the Netherlands, the ICC is governed by the Rome Statute, which is the treaty that established the court. The ICC has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes that affect the international community, such as genocide and other crimes against humanity.
The ICC is considered the last resort for prosecution of serious crimes that are of concern to the international community. The ICC will not take action in a situation where a case has been investigated and heard by a national court, unless there is suspicion that the national court proceedings are not genuine. Heads of state, such as Saddam Hussein from Iraq and Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir from Sudan, have been tried at the ICC for genocide and crimes against humanity.