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Differences Between Federal and State Criminal Cases


Many questions arise when discussing state and federal laws and how they can overlap in the criminal justice system. One of the biggest questions is whether a case will be prosecuted at the state or federal level. In most cases, if a crime occurs in one state, it is considered a state crime and is then handled by a state court. However, if a crime occurs in many states, across state lines, or to or on federal property, it can become a federal crime.

Generally, state crimes are any conduct that breaks state laws, such as traffic violations, murder, and other conduct that is completely contained in the state. On the other hand, federal crimes are specifically enumerated federal offenses, such as mail fraud, IRS violations, kidnapping, allegations of drug possession and trafficking, and immigration offenses.

If an offense seems as though it can be charged as either type of crime, the “Supremacy Clause” included in the United States Constitution states that federal law trumps state law, and authorities at the federal level will handle the case. This happens frequently when suspects are of great focus and interest to federal law enforcement officers.

Penalties and Sentencing Differences in Federal and State Courts

In state courts, state laws dictate penalties and sentencing. While some states possess guidelines, other states require judges to decide a minimum and maximum range without guidelines. When state penal codes are enacted, the legislature is required to place minimum and maximum sentencing penalties. Then, judges will use these factors to decide whether a committed crime deserves a low, mid, or maximum penalty and sentence.

In federal courts, judges use “The Federal Sentencing Guidelines” to calculate the penalties for serious offenses. While these guidelines are not always used, nor are they mandatory, they are used to make penalty considerations.

Enhancement Option Differences in State and Federal Criminal Cases

These differences mostly impact those cases handled by a federal criminal court since federal courts have point systems that are used to determine the guideline range of a person’s sentence. This point system takes into account the following factors:

  • Background
  • Criminal history
  • Facts and allegations

The development of facts pertaining to these factors can seriously influence a judge’s sentencing decision.

Individuals Charged with Federal Crimes Should Contact Legal Representation Immediately

Because federal crimes often result in serious penalties, lengthy prison sentences, and heavy fines, it is in the best interest of a person who has been charged with a federal crime to contact experienced legal representation right away. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer who has a track record of handling federal criminal cases can determine which legal strategies can best safeguard the rights and future of an accused person.

At The Law Offices of Jed Silverman, our legal team is equipped with the knowledge and skills it takes to have your charges reduced or dismissed. Do not wait to retain the legal counsel you need. Your freedom may be at stake!

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