Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is the power to make and enforce legal judgments.  If a court threatens the exertion of power but it cannot, in fact, exert that power; then it lacks jurisdiction.  Worse, it loses credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people – like the story of the Boy Who Cried “Wolf!”

Courts wisely refrain from asserting jurisdiction beyond reach.  Prudent legislation and laws do the same.  Sooner or later though, an elected official may respond to political or other pressure and laws can be enacted that go too far.  When that happens, courts may strike down that law.  Courts generally, however, need a party in a case and their lawyer to ask them to do so, before they can do so.

Map_of_USA_MN-sm+CMPRSDState power asserted in criminal cases is mostly tied to its geographic territory.  At common law the principle that a state could make conduct or its result a crime if within its geographic borders, was believed to result in only a single place for prosecution of a crime.  Today states have largely expanded claimed jurisdiction to include conduct within a state that results in a crime elsewhere, and offenses commenced outside the state but completed within it, even by a defendant outside the state.

Minnesota Statutes Section 609.025, entitled “JURISDICTION OF STATE” asserts:

A person may be convicted and sentenced under the law of this state if the person:

(1) commits an offense in whole or in part within this state; or

(2) being without the state, causes, aids or abets another to commit a crime within the state; or

(3) being without the state, intentionally causes a result within the state prohibited by the criminal laws of this state.

It is not a defense that the defendant’s conduct is also a criminal offense under the laws of another state or of the United States or of another country.

Where a defendant is outside the state, he or she cannot be put on trial without first being in custody, or voluntarily submitting to the jurisdiction and authority of that state’s court.  This can be accomplished by the prosecutor using the state’s version of the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act.  See, Minnesota Statutes Sections 629.01 to 629.29.

In personam jurisdiction vs. in rem jurisdiction
Criminal prosecutions are generally based on in personam jurisdiction, often called personal jurisdiction.  The term means jurisdiction over the person.  It means the court, the state, has power over the person — ultimately the power to take a person’s liberty or life.

In rem jurisdiction means power over the thing.  Imagine a ship in the port of Duluth owned by a person halfway across the world.  The state cannot assert jurisdiction over the ship’s owner but can seize the ship in its port, by force.  This basis for court jurisdiction is less common than personal jurisdiction, but most asset forfeiture cases are based on in rem jurisdiction.  Though asset forfeiture cases are sometimes labeled civil (as opposed to criminal) by courts, the most common basis for them is alleged criminal activity.  Forfeiture law is a big topic, referenced here for its in rem jurisdictional basis.

Though most criminal claims are charged in state court, some few are in federal court under federal laws.  Subject matter jurisdiction can come up in either, but more often in federal court.   Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear a case involving a specific subject or type of criminal proceeding.  An example in Minnesota state court would be the statutes relating to the minimum and maximum ages of children and juvenile court vs. adult criminal court jurisdiction.

Another jurisdiction issue to be aware of is concurrent jurisdiction over a case by more than one sovereign authority.  In Minnesota this could include tribal, state, and federal jurisdiction (as well as potential criminal prosecutions by more than one state – see above.)  To the extent there is any body with international criminal authority, you could consider that as well.  One way this has frequent real world implications is when a prosecutor wants to coerce or compel a reluctant witness to testify.  Often, that witness has Fifth Amendment concerns and fears criminal prosecution based upon the testimony the prosecutor wants to elicit.   Without diving into depth on the type of immunity, prosecutors often will try to offer the witness some sort of immunity to take away their Fifth Amendment Rights.  When a criminal lawyer is representing the witness (as a witness lawyer), we may require full judicial immunity from every jurisdiction that could prosecute under concurrent jurisdiction, tribal, state(s), federal, international.

Jurisdictional defenses
Part of the work of a criminal defense lawyer is to gather factual information and then consider legal defenses that are present in those facts.  Though jurisdictional defenses are relatively uncommon, we look for them.  If a law, a police officer, or a prosecutor has overreached, the defense can make a motion to the judge asking that the case be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.  Otherwise, at a certain point before trial if this is not done, the court will deem that the defense has waived jurisdictional defenses.

Venue vs. jurisdiction
Venue is sometimes confused with jurisdiction since both are often associated with location, territory, and boundaries.  If a court lacks jurisdiction over a case, it must be dismissed.  (It might still be prosecuted in some other jurisdiction, however.)  If a case is filed in the wrong venue, but the court has jurisdiction (authority to decide the case), the case may be moved to a more convenient forum or location within the jurisdiction.

Another common ground between the two concept is the ability or the convenience of prosecuting or defending a case in a particular location.   To the extent that it is impossible, impractical, or inconvenient to either prosecute or defend a case in a given place, these issues are more likely to be raised and acted upon by a court.

Question?  You can call Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at (612) 333-1500