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Federal vs. State Crime: Understanding the Key Similarities and Differences

When facing legal battles, you may find yourself dealing with federal or state law. Many crimes can be charged on either the federal or state level, depending on circumstances, and understanding the difference between these levels can help a person understand what they’re fighting against.

When facing legal battles, you may find yourself dealing with federal or state law. Many crimes can be charged on either the federal or state level, depending on circumstances, and understanding the difference between these levels can help a person understand what they’re fighting against.

While data for 2022 is still being compiled, there were a total of 350,543 persons under federal correctional control at the end of 2021 alone, not including all those controlled at the state level. Take the steps to learn about federal vs. state crime so that you don’t become a part of that statistic.  

What Constitutes a State Crime?

The majority of crimes that a person may be charged with will be violations of state law. Murder, burglary, arson, rape, theft, and robbery are some of the most common serious state crimes that are seen in court. State lawmakers have jurisdiction to enact laws that penalize certain offenses, which is why some states have different punishments depending on the crime.

Additionally, the definition of what a crime is will vary on a state-by-state basis. One state may consider an act of self-defense to actually be a murder based on how they define the offense. 

What Constitutes a Federal Crime?

On the other hand, a federal crime is different in that federal lawmakers can only pass laws that impact the federal or national interest. For example, treason, drug trafficking, piracy, and counterfeiting U.S. dollars are all examples of federal crimes. When charged with this type of crime, you will need to find a specialty federal criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in federal law.  

It’s worth noting that the federal government also has jurisdiction over specific crimes as well, including:

  • Any crime that takes place on federal property or land, along with any crime involving federal officers
  • Any immigration or customs violations
  • A crime where fraud or deception of the government or one of its agencies takes place
  • A crime where the perpetrator crosses state lines
  • A crime where the victim crosses state lines

Unlike state crimes, a federal crime is prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys and is investigated by federal law enforcement officers. More often than not, a person charged with a federal crime will end up facing a federal judge who is appointed by the government. States can also choose to invite the federal investigative authorities to help with a case at the state level if they so choose. 

Can a Federal Crime Also Be a State Crime? 

While rare, a person can be charged in both state and federal court if their actions violated both state and federal law. Normally, you cannot be charged for the same crime twice, known as Double Jeopardy, but this does not apply to being charged in both state and federal court. 

The Difference in Punishment and Penalties

The difference in punishment and penalties between state and federal law will vary depending on the circumstances of the crime and what crime was committed. Both federal and state courts have advisory sentences for certain crimes, which the majority of federal judges will follow. 

Generally speaking, federal punishments and penalties will be longer and higher than those ta the state level. Federal drug charges are known to carry particularly harsh minimum sentences compared to many of the other federal crimes a person could be charged with.

Additionally, those convicted of federal crimes will go to federal prison, which is run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as opposed to a state prison. At the state level, those convicted of lesser crimes will be sent to a local jail whereas those convicted of heftier crimes will be sent to a state prison.

Even if you are convicted, appealing could be a good strategy. In fact, as of the last poll, 78% of criminal appeals involved four categories of offenses: drugs, firearms or explosives, property offenses, and sex offenses. Don’t settle for a verdict even once you’re in jail. Start the appeal process if you believe you can overturn a decision. 

Protect yourself from lawsuits with a qualified attorney

Defending yourself against the accusation of a crime can be an exhausting and troubling experience. That’s why relying on an accredit attorney who can help you gather evidence, raise witnesses, and build a legal strategy is so important. Don’t accept a conviction when charged with a crime without fighting the battle in the court of law using an effective board-certified attorney.

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