What Makes a Crime a Federal (or a State) Offense?

Sometimes, people fall into a bad situation and turn to less than legal means of resolving the issue. Oftentimes, those people get caught and have to pay for their crimes with years of their life and/or lots of money.

According to the FBI, someone with a criminal record has at least one felony charge in their past. Surveys show that about 73.5 million Americans fall under that category as of June 2017!

But do you know the difference between a federal crime and a state crime? Keep reading to learn all about federal vs state crimes and what to do if you get arrested.

What Kind of Crimes Fall Under Federal Jurisdiction?

When you think about crime, the first offenses that come to mind are often things like murder, burglary, or rape. But, none of these are federal crimes! They fall under the state jurisdiction and go through the state court system.

Crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction include:

  • Fraud, deception, or misrepresentation against the federal government or its various agencies
  • Immigration violations
  • Crimes committed on federal land or involving federal officers
  • When a defendant crosses state lines
  • When the criminal activity happens in more than one state
  • Crimes involving customs

A crime becomes a federal affair when the crime involves a federal agent, a federal agency, or more than one state. Keep in mind that a crime can escalate from state jurisdiction to federal jurisdiction if any of the above happens during the crime.

Are There Crimes That Fall Under State and Federal Jurisdiction at the Same Time?

In short, yes. You can have a crime that falls under both state and federal jurisdiction. When this happens, most of the time, the two agencies will decide who will proceed with the case.

Now, the “double jeopardy” clause says a person cannot get tried twice for the same crime. So, you won’t serve state and federal time for the same offense. But, that means a federal agency can pick up your case even after a state charge acquittal.

In some cases, your lawyer may recommend you plea guilty to the state charge to protect you from the federal charge. That way, you get a less severe penalty than what the federal judge would throw at you.

Differences Between Federal vs State Court Appointees

When it comes to the judges who decide your case, the president appoints federal judges and they serve until they retire. State judges go through the re-election process every cycle.

In most cases, an Assistant U.S. Attorneys will prosecute a federal case and federal officers (like FBI, DEA, or ICE agents) lead the investigation. In state criminal cases, county sheriffs, state agents, or local police officers investigate crimes. Then the state district attorneys or city attorneys prosecute.

A criminal case in federal court will almost always take longer than a state case because there are far fewer federal prosecutors than state prosecutors.

Are the Punishments Different Between Federal vs State Crimes?

Yes, for the most part, a federal judge will give you a longer sentence than a state judge for the same offense. Even the most “minor” crime carries a heavier weight in a federal court.

This discrepancy is most noticeable with drug charges. If you get tried in federal court for a drug charge, there are harsh sentencing rules to prevent a judge from going easy on you.

But, also know that federal prisons get more funding from the government. This means better food and facilities for the prisoners in most cases.

How to Get Legal Help After You’re Arrested for a State or Federal Offense

It’s important to know if your charge could fall under federal jurisdiction. Not all law firms have experience in federal court cases. For the best shot at beating your case, you’ll want to hire a defense lawyer that has gone toe to toe with the U.S. Attorney’s office before!

If you can find a law group with experience in both state and federal courts, you’ll have all your bases covered. But, know that the more experienced the lawyer, the higher their hourly fee goes.

When you’re looking for a lawyer make sure to look at their case history. Do they win the majority of their cases? How many of those losses were for cases like yours?

Also, make sure to look for recent reviews from other clients. Those reviews give you a good insight into what working with the lawyer is like from the client’s perspective.

Of course, take the time to interview several lawyers and choose the one that clicks with you the most. You’ll want someone you feel comfortable talking to who can explain what to expect in ways that make sense to you.

Don’t Do the Crime if You Can’t Do the Time

One sure-fire way to make sure you don’t end up a defendant in criminal court is to avoid committing any crimes. Life can get tough and it may seem like an easy fix, but the consequences are never worth the benefit.

While a crime is a crime regardless of the law enforcement agency that handles your case, there are several major differences between a state and a federal offense. You and your lawyer should keep these differences in mind when deciding on your defense strategy.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that you learned all about the differences between federal vs state crimes. If you’re looking for more articles about laws, attorneys, legal services, and more, check out the rest of our blog today!

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