When determining whether to charge someone with a state or federal crime, in many cases, it comes down to jurisdiction — or the authority of a court to hear a case. Because the jurisdiction of state cases is much broader than it is for federal charges, most defendants’ cases are adjudicated in state court. Every case from shoplifting to certain kinds of murder generally wind up in state court.
Federal law is uniform, which means breaking a federal law in North Carolina will net you the same penalties as it would if you broke the same law in South Carolina or Wyoming. Of course, states have the right to determine their own laws and penalties, so what is illegal or a felony in one state might be legal or just a misdemeanor in others. A good example of this is that while some states have legalized marijuana possession and use at the state level, it remains illegal federally, even when the government appears to turn a blind eye to prosecution.
Federal charges often come from crimes that cross state lines
If a crime spree involves several states, with the defendants crossing state lines in the commission of their crimes, the charges that arise will be federal, e.g., kidnapping or drug trafficking.
Other examples of potential federal crimes include:
- Crimes involving interstate commerce
- Mail fraud
- Internet crimes
- Identity theft
- Tax offenses
Naturally, these aren’t the only possible federal charges someone can face, but they do give you an idea of what kinds of things land in federal court.
For federal crimes, the investigating agencies are different
Your local and state law enforcement investigate state crimes. But when federal laws are involved, the investigating agencies are likely to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
There can dual jurisdiction
Depending on the alleged crime and the circumstances, both the state and federal courts can share jurisdiction. Then, those prosecuting the case strategize to find the most effective tactic that will yield a conviction.
If you are facing federal charges, it is always prudent to retain an attorney with familiarity in defending those charged in the federal court system as soon as possible. Take no chances with your future.