What Makes Federal and State Crime Different?

Federal crimes and state crimes are very different from one another. Being charged by the federal government is considerably different than being charged by the state government. To get the best outcome, you’ll need a lawyer that understands how to defend clients against federal prosecutors.

Many defense attorneys are knowledgeable when it comes to handling state allegations. Others have experience managing federal cases.

The criminal defense attorneys at Polk Law are prepared to protect your rights, regardless of the charges you are facing.

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What Makes a Crime Federal?

Simply put, federal crimes involve federal agencies. Federal agencies do the investigating, charging, and prosecuting of the case. For instance, if you are being investigated by the FBI, ATF, IRS, SEC, Secret Service, Border Patrol, or DEA then your crime is a federal crime. That means your case will be handled by federal prosecutors as opposed to state prosecutors.

Common federal crimes include:

  • Drug trafficking;
  • Illegal immigration or unlawful residence;
  • White collar crime;
  • Weapons trafficking;
  • Organized crime;
  • Computer fraud or hacking;
  • Counterfeiting currency;
  • Bank robbery in which the money is FDIC insured;
  • Crimes committed on federal property;
  • U.S. postal fraud; and
  • Identity theft.

These are crimes that often involve multiple states, jurisdictions, and municipalities. It would be inefficient to have state and local police forces investigate and try these cases, so they’re handled at the federal level.

What is a State Crime?

The same way that federal crimes involve federal agencies, state crimes involve state agencies. Generally speaking, they are handled by the local city and county prosecutors, city and county judges, and city and county police departments.

Common state crimes include:

  • Murder;
  • Burglary;
  • Armed robbery;
  • Theft;
  • Assault and battery;
  • Kidnapping; and
  • Sexual assault.

These cases are best managed at the local level because they involve local residents and local victims.

Are State and Federal Crimes Prosecuted Differently?

State and federal courts are vastly different legal systems, but many of the general points of procedure remain the same. Different laws, however, apply. This is why it’s imperative to have a defense attorney who can manage a federal case.

Some of the guidelines are different at the federal level as well. Evidence and testimony will be presented from agents of the DEA, FBI, or another federal agency. Federal agencies may have a different approach to forensic evidence, some of which may be based on false science.

For defendants that have been charged with a federal crime, it’s important to have an attorney that understands how the federal agency responsible for your case goes about prosecuting you. Criminal defense from federal charges is a specialized area of practice that requires an experienced defense attorney.

Another good reason to have a defense attorney who has experience with federal cases is that federal judges hand out sentences based on mandatory minimums. The mandatory minimum sentences are often harsher than those you would find at the state or local level. Defendants in these cases often find themselves staring down the barrel of much stiffer sentences than they would receive if charged with the same crime under state law.

In addition, those convicted of federal crimes are sentenced to federal prison as opposed to state prison.

What Happens if I Violated Both State and Federal Laws?

Sometimes, state and federal laws overlap in which case both federal and state prosecutors may be interested in trying your case. It’s true that you cannot be tried more than once for the same crime in the same jurisdiction. This is called the “double jeopardy” clause. You are protected by the Constitution of the United States from being tried more than once for the same crime (in the same jurisdiction) under the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

The question then becomes: who has jurisdiction over the case? The answer is that both do.

Most folks are not aware of the fact that if you are acquitted by a state court, you can still be tried under federal law. In fact, even if you are convicted under state law, you can be tried again by federal prosecutors. Double jeopardy protections are much weaker than most folks think. This is because the federal government and the state government are different jurisdictions or “sovereignty”.

On the other hand, it’s rare that federal prosecutors will bring charges against a criminal defendant who has been convicted by a state court. This practice is discouraged by the Department of Justice. That, however, is not the same as saying it is illegal.

Will Raleigh District Attorneys Bring Charges Against me if I'm Tried in Federal Court?

Probably not, but they are not legally obligated to refrain from prosecution either. If a local D.A. prosecutes you for a crime that you have been acquitted of by a federal court, then your lawyer’s job is to review the precedent set by other similar cases and make arguments for why that precedent should prohibit you from standing trial twice.

Originally, double jeopardy only applied to federal laws. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it in fact applied to states as well. This, effectively, prohibits you from being tried twice for the same crime in the same jurisdiction. Federal and state, of course, are two separate jurisdictions. That’s why you can be charged with the same crime twice.

This rarely happens, however, and in certain instances, it would be illegal for a state or federal prosecutor to try a defendant twice in North Carolina. There are two “statutory bars” that prohibit multiple trials by different sovereignty. Those are:

  1. Drug charges; and
  2. Crimes that straddle multiple jurisdictions.

What Should I do if I've been Accused of a Federal Crime?

Being accused of a federal crime is a serious matter. Federal sentencing guidelines are generally stricter than state guidelines. You may be looking at a longer sentence due to federal minimum sentencing guidelines.

In addition, there are differences in procedure, different judges, and different agencies prosecuting the case. You need a lawyer who has experience managing these cases. They’re harder to come by than you might think.

Only 1 of every 30 crimes are prosecuted in federal courts. An ideal lawyer for managing your case will have experience defending clients in both federal and state court. The criminal defense attorneys at Polk Law have the experience you need to deliver the best defense available. If you’re being accused under federal law, give our experienced Raleigh criminal defense attorneys a call at (919) 948-6464 and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.

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