What is Criminal Jurisdiction?

Jessica Hobby

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 U.S. Constitution grants criminal jurisdiction to state and local courts.
The U.S. Constitution grants criminal jurisdiction to state and local courts.

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.

Geography is a factor in criminal arrest jurisdictions.
Geography is a factor in criminal arrest jurisdictions.

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.

Counterfeiting is a federal crime, and is tried in federal courts.
Counterfeiting is a federal crime, and is tried in federal courts.

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Discussion Comments


@BigManCar - This is especially true with all of the joint task forces going on these days for drugs, terrorism, and immigration.

You can have officers from all over Creation on a task force, and they may be under state or federal jurisdiction and be able to arrest anyone they find, no matter where. Especially the federal task forces, since federal criminal jurisdiction extends across the whole country, and sometimes beyond it.


Jurisdiction is one of those things that a lot of "street lawyers" get in trouble with. They will tell a police officer that they can't be arrested or whatever because the officer is out of their jurisdiction, not realizing that there are a lot of variables that can make that not be true.

For example, if a chase starts in a city and continues to another, the chasing officer can usually finish what they started. Also, the county sheriff will sometimes deputize all peace officers in the county, so they have arrest powers no matter what city they are in. And some states given all sworn law enforcement officers a state commission that means they are considered cops anywhere in the state.

There are even local and state police with federal law enforcement commissions, especially for immigration matters.

So don't think just because you are not in the city named on an officer's uniform that he can't arrest you. Maybe he can't, but maybe he can.


When I think of jurisdiction, I always think of those old movies where the criminals are running away from the police in a car, and they cross the state line, and the cops just turn around and let them go.

Somehow I don't think it would work that way. Especially not now. You'd get to the state line and half of the adjoining state would be waiting for you.

I always liked those movies though. Seemed like you were rooting for the "little guy" to make it there and get away, even if you would not want that kind of person running around loose in real life.

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