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The process of taking a case to federal court

Federal courts make some huge decisions and set precedents that can shape the laws in Pennsylvania for decades to come. However, the courts have no say in picking or choosing what cases are offered to them. They have to wait until something happens and it is then brought to them to make these important rulings.

In criminal cases, this often starts with a grand jury. The executive branch of the U.S. government uses attorneys and lawyers to start these cases and present evidence. The lawyers will show this evidence to the jury, which will then decide if a court case is needed at all.

Sometimes, the grand jury doesn't think that the lawyer has enough evidence for the case. To save the court time, they'll block the attempt to start a case, and that will be the end of it.

If the jury does decide that a case should continue, it will rule as such. This does not mean that the person—who may not even have been arrested at this point—is guilty. All that it means is that the federal court can now hear the case.

In legal terms, when a case is brought against an individual, it's called an indictment. After the indictment, a new jury will be formed, and it is a trial jury. This is the jury that actually has the right to make a ruling on whether or not the person is guilty of the crime of which he or she has been accused.

When facing charges, it's critical for you to know the whole process and what legal steps you can take.

Source: Federal Judicial Center, "Federal Courts and What They Do," accessed Oct. 06, 2015

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