What Is The Difference Between State Charges And Federal Charges?

Most people who are charged with crimes in Pennsylvania will face charges in state court. However, there are some cases in which people will be federally charged for certain criminal offenses.

While criminal laws are generally the province of state legislatures and are prosecuted at the state level, certain offenses that involve interstate commerce or that happen on federal lands can be prosecuted at the federal level.

If you are facing federal charges, you should retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer who practices in federal and state court. DiCindio Law is prepared to represent people who are facing state or federal criminal charges.

When Can People Face Federal Criminal Charges?

Before someone can be charged federally, the offense must involve some type of federal issue. For example, you could face state charges for dealing drugs.

However, if you brought drugs into the state from a different state or country, you could face federal charges since doing so would involve interstate commerce.

You can similarly face federal charges for certain types of white-collar crimes, including wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, or others. If you commit a crime on federal property, including a military base, U.S. Post Office, or another, you could also face federal criminal charges.

Certain criminal offenses are only crimes under state or federal law, but others, including drug distribution or trafficking, bank robbery, or kidnapping, could be charged under both state and federal laws and could be prosecuted at either level.

Understanding Federal Jurisdiction

Most criminal offenses are prosecuted at the state level and are violations of state criminal laws, including robbery, murder, arson, theft, and others. In these types of cases, state legislators have enacted laws to regulate the actions of people, and the state will have the power to decide them.

Federal criminal offenses include fewer types because federal legislators are only allowed to pass laws that deal with a federal or national interest. For example, since the federal government has the sole authority to print U.S. tender, counterfeiting is a federal crime.

What constitutes a federal interest is defined broadly. The federal government will have jurisdiction over the following types of crimes:

  • Crimes that occur on federal land or those that involve federal officials
  • Crimes involving deception, misrepresentation, or fraud against the federal government or a federal agency
  • Crimes when the defendant crosses state lines while committing a crime
  • Crimes conducted over state lines, including wire fraud or mail fraud
  • Customs and immigration violations

Differences Between State And Federal Court

State and federal courts differ in a number of different ways. While state court judges have to be re-elected to continue serving, federal judges are appointed by the U.S.

President to serve for life. Federal agents with federal agencies, including the DEA, ATF, FBI, or ICE, investigate federal crimes, and assistant U.S. attorneys prosecute them.

State criminal offenses are investigated by local police officers, county sheriffs, or state agents, and they are prosecuted by city attorneys or state district attorneys.

Can You Be Prosecuted in Both State and Federal Court?

Some cases will violate both state and federal law. While cases will normally be filed in either federal or state court, there is no bar against prosecuting a criminal case in both federal and state court simultaneously when the conduct violates both federal and state law.

Some people believe that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents them from being charged in both state and federal court for the same criminal conduct.

However, while the Double Jeopardy Clause does prohibit trying someone twice for the same offense, it contains a separate sovereign exception. Under this exception, a person can be tried in both state and federal courts since the federal and state governments are separate.

For instance, the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in the early 1990s were acquitted by a jury in California state court.

The officers were then charged under federal law, and two officers were then convicted of violating his constitutional rights in federal court.

Some states have state laws that prohibit people from being prosecuted in both federal and state courts. For example, New York prohibits people from being prosecuted for the same crime at the state level when they have already been prosecuted under federal law when both laws are meant to stop the same types of harm.

Similarly, under 18 Pa. C.S. § 111, people cannot be prosecuted in state court after they have already been prosecuted in federal court for the same crime when the federal and state offenses prohibit the same types of harm.

However, the federal system does not include the same degree of protection, meaning that federal prosecutors might prosecute someone who has been charged in state court for the same conduct. In most cases, Pennsylvania state prosecutors will dismiss state charges when the defendants are charged federally.

Penalties in State Court vs. Federal Court

In most cases, federal penalties are more severe than state court penalties. This is because most federal judges follow the federal sentencing guidelines when handing down sentences.

These penalties are frequently longer than what someone might face for a similar crime in state court. For example, federal drug offenses carry long mandatory minimum prison sentences.

People who are convicted of federal offenses will be sentenced to federal prison instead of state prison.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA criminal defense lawyers at DiCindioLaw, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC

29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535