It can be confusing to understand the difference between a criminal offense charged at the state level and a criminal offense charged at the federal level. At the onset, federal courts have judges that have been selected by the President of the United States, and who have been confirmed by the Senate. In contrast, every state has its own process for selecting judges; some are elected, and others are appointed in a variety of different procedures. A criminal defense lawyer will explain the differences below:
Many crimes that you might see on TV on the news or in a courtroom TV show deal with state crimes—things like murder, theft, burglary, and arson. These laws are enacted by each state’s lawmaking body, under the general police powers that each state has. The United States also has laws enacted by Congress, and such laws can only be passed if they deal with a federal issue or matter. Federal crimes can encompass things that occur on federal land or against a federal employee, a crime dealing with allegations of fraud against a federal agency such as the IRS or Medicaid, a crime where either the defendant or the conduct crosses state lines, such as a defendant traveling to another state to commit a crime, or a crime committed over the internet, dealing with victims in multiple state, and crimes involving immigration and customs.
Within each state, different types of crimes and the potential penalties and sentences can vary greatly. Jail and prison sentences are served within the state a crime was committed. For federal crimes, the United States Criminal Code governs the types of crimes, and advisory federal sentencing guidelines provide recommendations for potential sentences for any type of federal offense. Federal crimes often have certain sentence enhancements or mandatory minimum sentences for certain types of crimes. If a person is convicted of a federal offense and is required to serve a prison sentence, they will serve their time in a federal prison that is overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
If you’re facing federal criminal charges, it is important to have an experienced federal defense attorney who understands the law and is willing to fight for your rights and your freedom.