Federal vs. State Criminal Charges

Being charged with a crime can be an overwhelming, complicated and confusing process. The process can become even more complicated if there is a chance that you could be charged with a federal crime versus a state crime. If you are being charged with a crime, it’s important that you consult a legal expert immediately to get the best possible results, but here is a quick summary of differences between being charged with a federal versus a state crime.

1.) If a crime occurs in one state, generally it will be charged as a state crime, unless it is distinctly noted as a federal crime. Federal crimes involve specifically denoted federal offenses like mail fraud, IRS violations, kidnapping, damaging or destroying mailboxes, kidnapping, drug trafficking, computer crimes, terrorist threats or federal sex crimes. Additional charges that are prosecuted in federal courts include treason, piracy, counterfeiting, as well as any violations of securities laws.

The “Supremacy Clause” in the United States constitution explicitly defines that federal law will always have more power than state laws and federal agencies will likely take over the case. Federal agencies that could be involved in a federal case include the FBI, IRS, DEA or ATF.

2.) If a crime happens in one state, no matter the severity of the crime, generally you would be charged with a state crime. All states have provisions for charging and prosecuting crimes that violate state laws, from simple traffic matters to felony charges like murder, drug charges, sex crimes, etc.

3.) One of the biggest differences between state and federal charges is how evidence is presented and disclosed. If you are charged with a state crime, you could expect that there may be a few folders of discovery evidence, possibly comprised of a few hundred pages of evidence. Federal charges often include a much larger scope of introduction of evidence from multiple federal agencies, including video evidence, wiretapping audio, various federal agency agent reports and many more witnesses. This is because while the scope of state charges tend to be one area, federal charges are all-encompassing and can include years of monitoring and evidence collection against you.

4.) The penalties for federal charges are usually much more drastic than those of state charges.

Federal charges are tried in federal courts, and federal judges use Federal Sentencing Guidelines to decide on sentencing penalties for federal charges. State courts are often guided by state laws and legislation, which can include minimum and maximum sentencing penalties, which allow a judge to decide if the crime fits into a low sentence like probation, or a maximum sentence.

5.) The conviction rate when charged with a federal crime versus a state crime is drastic. Federal court conviction percentages are higher than 90 percent, while state conviction rates hold between 45-65% conviction rates in general.