To most people, a criminal charge is a criminal charge, and any arrest can be a scary and stressful experience. However, when facing a federal criminal charge, it’s important to understand how it differs from a state charge and how the criminal justice process varies in these circumstances.
Below you’ll find some pertinent questions involving the difference between federal and state criminal charges and answers that can help you learn more about both criminal courts.
What is the difference between state and federal criminal courts?
State courts and federal courts are the two primary courts in the United States. In the simplest of terms, state courts handle state laws, and federal courts manage federal laws. Another way of defining this is through jurisdiction. Jurisdiction dictates the types of criminal cases that a federal court or a state court hears. State courts have broader jurisdiction, while federal courts have more limited jurisdiction.
Federal and state courts are also distinguished by who makes these laws. State legislators, such as state governors, help to pass laws concerning criminal acts in the states. Members of Congress, such as Senators and U.S Representatives, collectively create federal laws. Federal courts are maintained under the Constitution, while state courts are held under the state legislature.
What are examples of crimes that can be charged on the federal level?
Congress establishes the laws and penalties of crimes that are charged on the federal level. If a crime is classified as a federal crime, it will involve some violation of the Constitution or a crime that’s seen on a national scale. Most crimes are tried at the state level, while fewer crimes are handled at the federal level.
Examples of federal crimes include tax fraud, mail fraud, counterfeiting U.S. currency, drug trafficking, piracy, treason, computer crimes, identity fraud, credit card fraud, electoral fraud, animal cruelty, federal hate crimes, and immigration offenses. These crimes are serious, and consequences can be harsh on the federal level.
Crimes will be tried at the federal level when:
- It involves an offense on a federal employee or officer—for example, an assault against an FBI agent.
- It involves a criminal act on federal land. Examples include any crime that takes place on a military base, a national park, or an Indian reservation.
- It involves an illegal act that crosses state lines, such as drug trafficking.
- It involves fraud on the national level. For instance, willfully and knowingly misrepresenting yourself on immigration paperwork or IRS tax documents.
It’s always crucial to work closely with an experienced federal lawyer when facing any of these crimes.
What are examples of crimes that are charged on the state level?
State courts have wide jurisdiction, which means they hear far more criminal cases than the federal courts. Citizens will be charged at the state level for crimes such as theft, robbery, burglary, arson, domestic violence, assault, murder, and rape.
It’s important to note that some of these crimes can be transferred to the federal level if they occur on federal land or act against federal employees or officers. While a robbery at a local residence will be a state crime, a robbery at a national bank or on federal land will be a federal crime.
What happens if I violate both state and federal laws?
An individual that violates both state and federal laws will face the consequences from both entities. Many U.S. citizens misinterpret the double jeopardy clause, which states that you can’t be charged twice for the same offense. However, the U.S. Constitution only protects citizens from the jeopardy of an offense twice in the same “sovereign.” According to the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine, state courts and federal courts are considered separate sovereigns, which means you can be charged for the same crime in state and federal courts.
If an individual commits a crime that violates state and federal law, both entities can prosecute and convict the defendant. When convicted, a defendant will have to serve a sentence at a federal prison, followed by a sentence served at the state level. Anyone charged at both the state and national levels should seek the counsel of a federal lawyer as soon as possible.
How are federal criminal convictions penalized?
An important thing to remember is that federal penalties and punishments are harsher than state penalties. The severity of the crime will determine a federal sentence. Keep in mind that federal judges don’t have a lot of room to waver on punishments.
Federal judges have to follow strict guidelines when it comes to sentencing. A criminal defense attorney and a state prosecutor will often negotiate on possible penalties and plea deals. However, like federal judges, federal prosecutors don’t have as much room to negotiate plea bargains. This is why it’s important to find a federal criminal defense lawyer that has stellar negotiating skills.
What should you do if you’re accused of a federal crime?
If you’re accused of a federal crime, time is of the essence. You must contact a federal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The sooner you call, the sooner your defense team can gather evidence and begin building your case.
Most importantly, you must hire a federal defense lawyer with experience. Federal crimes and court processes can be confusing and complex, so you want to work closely with an attorney that can explain your charges and immediately take action. The more you learn about federal law and your criminal case, the easier it will be to collect relevant evidence and identify the most powerful defense strategy.
State crimes are charged more frequently than federal crimes, and federal crimes face harsher penalties and punishments. It is possible to be charged for the same crime at both the federal and state level. If you’re facing federal criminal charges, speak with a skilled and experienced federal defense attorney immediately.
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