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Last Modified: December 28, 2022


Jurisdiction is a word with three common uses in legal parlance:   “the power wielded by a government over its subjects, their property, and the land…within its boundaries,” “a court’s authority over persons or property brought before or appearing before it,” and “the geographical area within which a government’s or a court’s power may be applied.”  A jurisdiction could therefore refer to either authority over a given area or to the area, itself.

Example Sentences

The judge appointed to preside over traffic court has no jurisdiction to make rulings on medical malpractice cases.

Case Study

In 1977, celebrated film director Roman Polanski cajoled, intoxicated, drugged, and sexually assaulted 13-year-old Samantha Gailey in the vacant home of Jack Nicholson.  Although Polanski had entered into a plea bargain to escape six felony charges, he fled the U.S. to Europe before the sentencing.  The case has recently received renewed public interest and roused calls to extradite Polanski from France, where he remains outside the California jurisdiction in which he could legally be tried.  The outstanding international warrant for Polanski’s arrest notwithstanding, he can only be tried under California jurisdiction.

Other Important Information

There are three jurisdictional questions that determine how and where rulings are made: whether there is jurisdiction in personam (over the person(s) involved), in rem (over the type of case), or of the sort that would make a particular ruling appropriate.  Different courts have different jurisdictions:  Subject matter jurisdiction is the prerogative to judge cases that fall within certain legal categories, such as probate or guardianship.  Territorial jurisdiction is jurisdiction over a geographical space.  General jurisdiction is the authority to rule on any dispute that arises in a geographical area.  (Excepting interstate cases, state courts have general jurisdiction.)  Concurrent jurisdiction is shared authority to judge the same types of cases in the same area, whereas exclusive jurisdiction is the sole privilege of certain courts.  Diversity jurisdiction, an example of exclusive jurisdiction, gives federal courts the right to rule on interstate disputes that exceed $75,000 in damages.  Appellate jurisdiction is the power to review and/or overturn the rulings of lower courts. A directory of Utah’s courts can be found here.

Image “The Supreme Court Side of the Captiol” copyright by vxla.