The federal court system in the United States, applicable to criminal cases arising from North Carolina, has three primary levels. The first is district or trial court level. The second is the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which reviews decisions made by North Carolina federal district courts. The third is the United States Supreme Court. It reviews decisions made by the Fourth Circuit.
The District Courts:
In North Carolina, there are three federal districts, the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts. The three districts operate largely independently from one another. They have their own judges, rules, practices, procedures, and even attorneys. Each district adjudicates the crimes that are alleged to have occurred within their boundaries. The Eastern District of North Carolina is comprised of 44 counties. These include Wake County, and the other counties east of Raleigh. The Middle District of North Carolina includes 24 counties, between Durham and Forsyth County. The Western District of North Carolina encompasses 32 counties, between Mecklenburg County and Cherokee county. Judicial proceedings are held at various locations within the districts in which they arise. For instance, in the Eastern District, court is held in Raleigh, Greenville, Fayetteville, New Bern, Wilmington, and Elizabeth City. In the Middle District, it is held in Durham, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. In the Western District, proceedings are held in Asheville, Charlotte, and Statesville.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals:
Parties in criminal cases may appeal the judgments or decisions made by district courts in North Carolina to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit sits in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit also reviews decisions from all federal district courts in South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Rulings made by the Fourth Circuit are binding on the all of the lower courts within the Circuit.
The United States Supreme Court:
The highest court in the United States is, of course, the United States Supreme Court. Decisions of the United States Supreme Court are binding on all lower federal courts, including the Fourth Circuit, the eleven other circuit courts of appeal, and all United States district courts. However, although thousands of cases are presented to the Supreme Court each year, the Court reviews only a small number of them. The Supreme Court carefully selects the cases it considers, based on factors such as: the importance of the issue involved, and whether there is a split between the various circuit courts of appeal as to a question of law. If the Court decides not to hear a case, the decision made by the court of appeals in which the case arose remains binding.
In choosing a defense attorney in a federal criminal case, it is important to choose an attorney who is experienced at all levels of federal criminal defense practice. Attorney Robert Hale has represented defendants at all levels of the federal court system for over twenty-six years. Attorney Robert Hale is both an experienced federal trial attorney, and federal appellate attorney. Once an assistant federal public defender in the Eastern District of North Carolina, he has been in private practice for over twenty years, representing defendants charged with federal crimes. Mr. Hale represents defendants in both the Eastern and Middle Districts of North Carolina, and on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He is also a member of the bar of the United States Supreme Court, and represents defendants before the Supreme Court as well.