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How Are Federal Criminal Charges Different From State-Level Charges?

October 11, 2022

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, you may be left wondering what to do next. One important question you will need to answer is whether the crime you’ve been accused of falls under state or federal jurisdiction, and what the difference is. 

Many people know the basics: that state crimes occur within the borders of one state, and that federal crimes occur when the crime is not contained to one individual state. Unfortunately, facing criminal charges may be more complex than that. If you’ve been accused of a crime on the federal level, here’s what sets apart those charges from state-level offenses. 

State-Level Crimes

Every state in America has the ability to make its own laws, so long as they adhere to federal regulations when doing so. Crimes like theft, burglary, robbery, arson, rape, and murder violate the law of every state. The difference between various state laws is how they are handled.

For example, the states are split when it comes to capital punishment. While some states still offer the death penalty, others have chosen to use only life in prison as a penalty. The details of the murder don’t decide whether you’ll face the death penalty; the state where you’re convicted will. 

If a crime is committed solely within the borders of one state and does not violate federal law, it falls under state jurisdiction. Each state is entitled to handle state crimes in accordance with its individual set of laws.

Federal Crimes

There are several factors that can cause a crime to fall under federal jurisdiction. If the crime occurred across multiple state lines, on federal property (such as a national park or federal bank), or involving people from multiple different states, it will be handled by the federal government. Breaking a specific federal law also counts as a federal crime.

Some examples of federal crimes include: 

Because these crimes involve the federal government or are not limited to the borders of one state, they fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

It is possible to commit a federal crime while within the borders of an individual state. A person committing tax fraud in Connecticut will still be under federal jurisdiction because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a federal government agency.

What If It Falls Under Multiple Jurisdictions?

Sometimes, things aren’t quite so clear-cut. For example, if someone is convicted of committing a crime in multiple states, it becomes a federal case. But the governments of the states where the crimes were committed may choose to get involved. 

Often, when the jurisdiction is muddy, one entity will defer to another, so that only one government agency is handling the case. However, it is possible for both agencies to choose to pursue criminal charges. That’s especially true if the deferring government deems the performance of the prosecuting government to be unsatisfactory.

The Constitution does include a double jeopardy clause, which states that no person can be convicted twice of the same offense by the same governing entity. This isn’t relevant here, however, because the governments of the individual states and the federal government would be classified as different.

For example, someone may have committed fraud in their home state. While they may have been convicted in federal court, the state may be unsatisfied with the sentencing. In these cases, the person may face a state trial, too. 

Because a person can be charged for the same crime on both state and federal levels if the jurisdictions overlap, you may need to take action now. Talk to your lawyer about this if you’re arrested.

Get Guidance from a Federal Defense Attorney

Once you know the difference between criminal charges that fall under state jurisdiction versus those that fall under federal jurisdiction, what comes next? Regardless of the severity of the crime that you have been accused of, it’s vital to contact a reliable attorney as soon as possible to ensure you protect yourself.

Criminal defense attorneys with training, experience, and drive to defend your best interests are difficult to find. Luckily, Chris Lewis and Associates is exactly that. Our team of lawyers based in Texas is prepared to give you the defense you deserve. We even have the track record to prove it.

If you have been accused of a crime in the Dallas, Texas area, don’t wait. Contact Chris Lewis & Associates P.C. today at 214-665-69303  to get the defense you deserve.


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