Understanding the legal system can be challenging, especially if someone is facing criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorney often finds clients confused about the distinction between federal and state charges. Understanding these differences is important in building a defense strategy. Below we take a look at what to expect in a state criminal case versus a federal criminal case.
Jurisdiction: The Key Differentiator
State Charges: The majority of criminal offenses fall under state jurisdiction. These are violations of state laws, prosecuted by state prosecutors, and tried in state courts. Common examples include theft, assault, and DUIs. State laws can vary, so a crime in one state might not be one in another.
Federal Charges: Federal charges are used when a crime breaks a federal law, happens across states, or on federal land. The U.S. Attorney’s office will handle these cases, and trials will occur in federal courts. Examples of these crimes include drug trafficking, immigration offenses, large scale fraud, and bank robbery.
Investigative Agencies: Who’s on the Case?
State Charges: Local or state police typically investigate state crimes. The evidence collected is then handed over to the state’s attorney or district attorney.
Federal Charges: Federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, or ATF lead investigations for federal offenses. These cases often involve extensive investigations and can span across states or even international borders.
Legal Proceedings: A Different Ballgame
State Charges: State court proceedings vary depending on the state’s legal system. Generally, they tend to be quicker than federal cases, with different procedural rules and sentencing guidelines.
Federal Charges: Federal cases often take longer due to the complexity of federal laws and the extensive pre-trial processes. Federal courts follow the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and federal sentencing guidelines can lead to longer sentences.
Sentencing: Severity and Complexity
State Charges: Sentencing in state cases depends on state-specific guidelines. These can range from fines and probation to imprisonment.
Federal Charges: Federal sentencing guidelines are generally more complex and stringent. Convictions can lead to prison terms, substantial fines, and federal supervision upon release.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorney
Understanding the differences between federal and state charges will help in preparing a solid defense strategy. If you have questions on criminal charges or need representation, check out this blog on questions to ask a criminal defense lawyer, and contact our criminal defense attorneys anytime at (904) 355-6777 or on our website.