Federal Crimes & State Crimes
What Criminal Offenses are Federal Crimes?
Congress creates the definitions as well as the penalties for criminal acts that are federal crimes. State legislators do the same, defining the laws and the penalties for violating those laws. Generally speaking, federal criminal laws are tied to a national or federal matter. Such issues might include interstate human trafficking, interstate drug trafficking, counterfeiting, federal tax fraud violations of immigration laws, computer crimes, identity theft, international money laundering, credit card or ATM fraud, intellectual property violations, public corruption, or virtually any crime committed on federal property.
Seeking Top Criminal Trial Lawyers When It Matters
Lee Ciccarelli and his criminal team our experienced and devoted to fighting for our clients. Contact our federal criminal defense team today if you are seeking a federal criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania. We serve clients in Pennsylvania including the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area, including West Chester, Lancaster, Norristown, Media, King of Prussia, Doylestown, Harrisburg, Reading and Lebanon. Contact us today by email or call us at (610) 692-8700.
The federal government has jurisdiction over any crime in which the defendant crosses a state line, or any crime that involves federal employees or takes place on federal land. Some offenses such as kidnapping or bank robbery can be prosecuted in state court or federal court, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the criminal offense. Since federal lawmakers can only pass laws when the federal or national interests are at stake, there are fewer criminal offenses federally than in states.
As noted, federal criminal laws must be tied to the interests of the federal government. As an example, because the federal government prints our money, the offense of counterfeiting is a federal offense. Murder would generally be a state crime unless it occurs on a federal Indian reservation, in a national forest, on a military base, or is the result of an assault on a DEA agent or other federal agent. Medicare or Medicaid fraud, fraud attached to an SBA loan, or any type of federal tax fraud are all prosecuted federally because they are federal programs.
Can a Criminal Offense Be Prosecuted in Both State and Federal Courts?
It is relatively rare that a criminal offense will be prosecuted in both state and federal court, but there is no constitutional bar to prosecuting in both courts. If the criminal conduct you are accused of violating both state and federal laws, then you could conceivably face charges in both state and federal court.
This does not violate the double jeopardy rule (being tried twice for the same crime) because there is an exception known as the “separate sovereign” rule, based on the fact that state and federal governments are separate. While it is more common to be investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies on state and federal levels, in most cases, the authority to try the case will be ceded to either state or federal.
One example of a crime that was tried in both state and federal court was the beating of Rodney King by four LA Police Department officers. The state of California tried the four officers, with a jury acquitting all four. Federal prosecutors then charged the four officers with violating the constitutional rights of Rodney King. At that trial, two of the officers were convicted.
Although the Constitution of the United States allows these dual sovereign prosecutions, states can pass laws that prohibit this type of prosecution. The state of New York prohibits prosecution at the state level under the statute, if the criminal offense has already been prosecuted federally. Because it doubles the financial and manpower resources when a criminal offense is prosecuted under state and federal laws, it happens rarely.
How Do Federal and State Criminal Prosecutions Differ?
There are many differences in state and federal criminal prosecutions. For instance, federal judges are appointed by the President of the United States and are appointed for life. State court judges—even when appointed by the governor of the state—must be re-elected. Federal officers and agents, such as FBI, ICE, IRS, DEA, and others investigate federal crimes, while local law enforcement, county sheriff’s departments, or state police investigate state criminal offenses. Assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecute all federal crimes, while county, state, or local attorneys prosecute state crimes. Since federal court cases typically take considerably longer to conclude, there are fewer federal prosecutions than state prosecutions.
The vetting process for federal prosecutors is typically much more intense than for state prosecutors since the position is viewed as much more prestigious. Since federal prosecutors have fewer cases than state prosecutors, they are able to be more fully prepared at trial than state prosecutors. This is not to say that state prosecutors are not as good as federal prosecutors, only that it can be more difficult to become a federal prosecutor, and federal prosecutors have more resources and fewer cases.
Penalties for Federal Criminal Offenses
The penalties for a federal criminal offense will vary significantly, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. State crimes are the same, with sentencing guidelines varying greatly, depending on the specifics of the offense. While federal penalties tend to be harsher than state penalties, this is not always the case. Federal drug crimes, however, do carry harsh mandatory minimum sentences while state drug crime penalties may not be nearly as stringent. Those convicted of a federal crime will serve their sentence in federal prison rather than state prison. If you are convicted in a state court, you will serve your time in a state prison or a county or local jail.
While federal judges tend to follow federal sentencing guidelines, a comparable crime in a state court could have a wide variety of sentences, depending on the judge. Aggravating circumstances will be taken into account for both state and federal penalties, as well as whether the offender has prior convictions. Under federal law, there are three types of criminal offenses: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. There are also nine “classes” of federal crimes (Class A felony, Class B felony, Class C felony, Class D felony, Class E felony, Class A misdemeanor, Class B misdemeanor, Class C misdemeanor, and infraction conviction. The maximum federal penalties for each of these classes are:
- Up to five days in custody, and a fine up to $5,000 for an infraction
- From five to thirty days in custody and a fine up to $5,000 for a Class C misdemeanor
- From thirty days to six months in prison and a fine up to $5,000 for a Class B misdemeanor
- From six months to one year in prison and a fine up to $100,000 for a Class A misdemeanor
- From one year to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for a Class E felony
- From five years to ten years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for a Class D felony
- From ten years to twenty-five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for a Class C felony
- At least twenty-five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for a Class B felony
- Life in prison or the death penalty, as well as a fine up to $250,000 for a Class A felony
Certain federal crimes, such as insider trading or securities fraud can bring significantly higher fines.
More White-Collar Crimes Being Charged Federally
Federal prosecutions are becoming more and more common for white-collar criminal offenses. With the increases in technology, computers and smartphones are often used to facilitate these crimes, therefore, the federal government is more involved in prosecuting white-collar crimes. In many cases, a corporation or individual is embroiled in a civil case, then once the civil case is concluded—regardless of the outcome—the DOJ steps in with a criminal investigation. Securities fraud cases are among the cases that often follow this pattern. It is important to know this if you are being charged civilly in a certain matter so you are not blindsided should it turn criminal at some point.
Further, depending on the amount of money involved, a white-collar case can move from a state court prosecution to a federal court prosecution. As an example, if state law enforcement arrests an individual for Medicaid fraud, then later finds out the fraud is much broader than initially believed, the state might dismiss the case so the federal government can indict.
The prosecutor in the case has the power to determine where the charges will be brought, but the defendant in the case has no such power. A federal prosecutor can make the decision based on the scope of the case to ask state officials to drop the charges so the federal government can pursue the case. In some instances, charges that are initially brought in state court will be of interest to federal prosecutors, therefore could end up in federal court.
The Necessity of Having an Experienced Federal Attorney By Your Side
Whether you are charged by the state or by the federal government, it is important that you always have an experienced attorney by your side who can ensure your rights are not violated and that you receive the best defense possible. If you are charged federally, however, it is even more important that your attorney has significant experience in federal criminal defense. Since the rules in federal court are different than those in state court, you will need an attorney who can help you navigate the criminal justice system in the best way possible for the best outcome possible.
Get the Help You Need
You want a team of experienced, passionate federal crimes lawyer that are ready to fight for you. Contact the Ciccarelli legal team today at (610) 692-8700. We serve federal criminal clients throughout Pennsylvania and are convenient to our clients with office locations in Philadelphia, West Chester, Lancaster, Springfield, Malvern, Plymouth Meeting, Lancaster, and Radnor and also available for phone and video meetings. You can have our lawyers provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case when you call (610) 692-8700 or complete an online contact form to schedule a free, confidential consultation.