Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes — What’s the Difference?

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Getting the right legal representation is important when you’re charged with a crime. One of the first things to consider is whether you’ve been charged with a federal crime or a state crime. To achieve the best possible outcome for your case, you’ll want a legal professional who is knowledgeable about federal crimes vs. state crimes.

People don’t only abide by legal codes set by the state in which they live; they also abide by a federal legal code set by the United States government. If you’re accused of breaking a law, the charges you face will depend on the type of crime that’s been alleged, as well as the agencies involved in investigating it.

Here are a few of the key differences and things to know about federal crimes vs. state crimes.

Examples of Federal Crimes

Federal crimes typically involve federal government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Homeland Security, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), Border Patrol, Secret Service, or even possibly the Postal Service. Federal crimes can include:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Crimes related to immigration
  • Crimes that include weapons charges
  • Organized crime
  • White-collar crime
  • Computer-related fraud and crime

Examples of State Crimes

The majority of crimes that are committed can be categorized by state law as criminal acts. Therefore, they are considered as state crimes. They’re investigated by local police officers, state agents, or county sheriffs. State crimes include things such as:

  • Assault/battery
  • Kidnapping
  • Stalking
  • Robbery
  • Homicide
  • Sexual battery

This list covers just a few of the many charges that are considered to be state crimes.

How Are Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes Prosecuted?

The state court and federal court are two entirely different systems — with different courthouses and judges. Federal judges will preside over federal criminal cases, while elected state court judges preside over state criminal cases. Assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecute federal cases, while state district attorneys and city attorneys cover state crimes.

In addition to this, Federal criminal court proceedings operate under different guidelines than state proceedings. They will often involve testimony and the presentation of evidence from one of the agencies mentioned earlier (FBI, DEA, etc.). It’s key for defendants to be represented by an experienced federal crime attorney who is familiar with the kind of forensic evidence that is typically presented in such cases. They know how to take all of the evidence into consideration while working with their clients to formulate the necessary legal strategy to maintain constitutional rights and generate the best outcome.

Length of Sentences

Another major difference between federal crimes vs. state crimes is the required sentence. Federal judges are steered by federal sentencing guidelines when handing down a sentence. Mandatory minimum sentencing means that federal sentences tend to be much more lengthy than state sentences. Even if their crimes are similar, someone being sentenced for a federal crime will typically face a much more harsh penalty than someone who has been convicted of a state crime.

The facilities where sentences are carried out differ, as well. People sentenced to do time for a federal crime will be sent to a federal prison, while those who serve time for a state crime will be sent to state prison. Federal prisons tend to house more non-violent offenders (such as people convicted of white-collar crimes), while state prisons house large populations of people convicted of violent crimes.

Legal Representation Matters

No matter what crime you’ve been charged with, it’s critical to secure legal representation that is experienced and knowledgeable in navigating the criminal justice system. This is of particular importance if you’ve been charged with a federal crime because the sentences for federal charges are so strict.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, Cleveland federal crime attorney Matthew C. Bangerter, ESQ. can help. Click here for an initial consultation or call (440) 241-4237 to start planning your defense.