Federal v. State Courts

It will come as no surprise to attorneys, but may to many lay readers, that the Rules of Procedure used in State and Federal courts are different.  Some of these differences can really reach out and hurt you.  For example, in many states and Federal Courts, Summary Judgment (a procedure used when there is no disagreement about the key material facts) is allowed. But in Virginia, for example, it is not.

Another example is the famous “Motion to Reconsider” which is frequently used in state courts when you think the Judge make a mistake and hope that he will fix it once you call it to his attention.  In some states, you have to ask the Judge to reconsider before you can file an appeal.  But in Federal Courts, the right to ask the Judge to reconsider is severely limited: you must show newly discovered evidence or a new court case which makes law on your side.  Otherwise, your only recourse is to appeal.

Similarly, Rules of Evidence can vary tremendously.  Some states will allow testimony by affidavit (especially for Summary Judgment), others will not (like Virginia).  Some states follow the Federal Rules on expert witnesses and the role of the judge, others do not.

So what’s the bottom line for the lay person?  Just because it can be done in one court does not mean it can be done in another court, in another jurisdiction.

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