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United States v. Parsons

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 9, 2018



          Cheryl R. Zwart, United States Magistrate Judge

         During today's hearing, and based on Defendant's explanation of his financial circumstances, I found Defendant is unable to afford counsel and is eligible for appointed counsel. I asked Defendant if he wants appointed counsel. He would not state whether he wants appointed counsel without first being told the “form” of this court.

         Attached is an explanation of the Jurisdiction of this court, specifically as it applies to Criminal cases.

         If after reading this information, Defendant wishes to have appointed counsel, he need only make that request in writing.

         Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts

         The jurisdiction of the federal courts has been defined by the Constitution, congressional statutes, and decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. Article III provides that the judicial power "shall extend" to nine types of "cases" and "controversies": all cases in law and equity arising under the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States; all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; controversies to which the United States is a party; controversies between two or more states; controversies between a state and citizens of another state; controversies between citizens of different states; controversies between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states; and controversies between a state or its citizens and foreign states, citizens, or subjects. The Constitution grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors and public ministers and cases in which a state is a party, leaving the remainder of cases within the judicial power to the Court's appellate jurisdiction, with "such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make." Article III of the Constitution left for the Congress to determine the distribution of federal jurisdiction within a system of federal courts and between the federal and state courts. The Judiciary Act of 1789 provided for cases to enter a federal court through an original filing, through removal of a case originally filed in state court, and through an appeal from the highest court of a state to the Supreme Court of the United States. Over the past two centuries, Congress has passed numerous statutes redefining the jurisdiction of the federal courts within the limits set by the Constitution. Throughout its history, the Supreme Court in its decisions has established additional rules and doctrines governing federal court jurisdiction.

         Supreme Court of the United States U.S. Sentencing Commission Federal Judicial Center Foundation The Federal Judicial Center produced and maintains this site in furtherance of its statutory mission. The Center regards the contents of this site to be responsible and valuable, but these contents do not reflect official policy or recommendation of the Board of the Federal Judicial Center. The site also contains links to relevant information on websites maintained by other organizations; providing these external links is for the convenience of this site's users and does not constitute verification or endorsement of the information or the sites to which the links are produced. Opinions expressed in the materials found on this site are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the Federal Judicial Center.

         Jurisdiction: Criminal

         The federal courts have operated as tribunals for the prosecution of crimes defined by federal law and the Constitution. The role of the federal courts as criminal courts grew as the federal government assumed greater responsibility for regulating the nation's social and economic life and as the federal government established federal penalties for crimes traditionally prosecuted in state courts.

         Article III of the Constitution extends the federal judicial power to all cases "arising under" the laws, Constitution, and treaties of the United States. In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress granted the federal trial courts jurisdiction over "all crimes and offences that shall be cognizable under the authority of the United States." The circuit courts had jurisdiction over all federal crimes, while the district courts shared with the circuit courts jurisdiction over minor crimes, defined as those "where no other punishment than whipping, not exceeding thirty stripes, a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, is to be inflicted." Federal jurisdiction extended to crimes committed on the high seas. The jurisdiction of the circuit courts was to be exclusive of the states "unless where the laws of the United States otherwise direct." The 1789 Act did not provide for any appeals of criminal cases in the district or circuit courts.

         In the 1790s and early 1800s, most of the criminal prosecutions in the federal courts were for crimes specified by congressional statutes, such as the Crime Act of 1790, which focused on enforcing federal government authority in areas like commerce, foreign affairs, and collection of revenue. The largest number of criminal cases in circuit courts arose from charges of piracy, assault, and other crimes on the high seas. Other prosecutions were brought under the Post Office Act of 1792, which prohibited interference with the mails, and under the Neutrality Act of 1794, which prohibited anyone in United States territory from supplying and outfitting ships for military expeditions against countries not at war with the United States. Criminal prosecutions were a small portion of circuit and district court business in the 1790s, totaling only 426 cases between 1789 and 1801. The greatest number of cases arose in Pennsylvania in response to the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, including 35 indictments for treason, and the 1799 Fries' Rebellion. Enforcement of the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a federal crime to conspire to oppose the laws or operations of the government or to criticize in writing the Congress or the president, led to a small number of highly publicized trials. Between 1801 and 1829, there were over 2, 700 indictments in circuit courts. Maritime crimes continued to be the largest portion of cases, about one-third of the total, with prosecutions for counterfeiting, forgery, and violations of the revenue laws producing about 500 cases. The district courts heard approximately 650 misdemeanor crimes as well.

         District attorneys also sought indictments in the 1790s for crimes defined under the common law. Many district judges and Supreme Court justices sitting in circuit courts assumed that the courts had jurisdiction over common-law crimes, such as bribery of federal officers, based on the federal government's inherent power under the law of nations. Justice Samuel Chase, sitting as circuit justice in the 1798 case of United States v. Worrall , denied that the federal courts had jurisdiction over common-law crimes, but some district attorneys continued to seek, and in some cases obtain, indictments for common-law crimes in U.S. circuit courts into the 1800s.

         The Supreme Court ruled in the 1812 case of United States v. Hudson and Goodwin that the federal courts did not possess jurisdiction over crimes defined solely by the common law. In 1816, the Supreme Court also ruled that federal courts did not have jurisdiction over non-statutory crimes under admiralty jurisdiction. Congress passed new statutes throughout the nineteenth century adding to and more precisely defining particular federal crimes.

         Although the Judiciary Act of 1789 stated that general federal criminal jurisdiction was to be exclusive of the state courts, Congress allowed, and sometimes mandated, state courts to enforce particular federal criminal statutes. In the early nineteenth century, however, a number of state courts ruled that such concurrent jurisdiction was an unconstitutional infringement of the sovereignty of the states. Justice Joseph Story expressed support for this principle, stating in his opinion in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee in 1816 that "no part of the criminal jurisdiction of the United States can, consistently with the Constitution, be delegated to State tribunals." In Prigg v. Pennsylvania , an 1842 case involving enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Supreme Court qualified this position by holding that states could not be obligated to enforce federal law, but could do so if no ...

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