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What Makes Federal Charges More Severe Than State Charges?

Facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania can be frightening, and if the charges you are facing are federal, you could be facing even more severe penalties. While criminal charges filed in either state or federal court can result in long prison sentences, stiff fines, and other penalties, those that are filed in federal court can be much worse. There are several reasons why federal charges are more severe than state criminal charges as explained by the experienced criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law below.

Understanding Federal vs. State Charges

Most criminal cases are prosecuted at the state level for violations of the state’s criminal laws. However, federal criminal laws that have been passed by Congress can also form the basis of prosecution. These types of criminal matters are handled by the federal court system instead of the state courts and are prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys rather than local district attorneys.

There are fewer federal criminal laws than state criminal laws. This is because the states generally have the right to make and enforce their criminal laws. However, the federal government can also enforce federal criminal laws that deal with national or federal issues, including crimes that affect interstate commerce, those that cross state lines, crimes committed on federal property or Native American reservations, and those committed against the federal government and its agencies.

Federal charges place much more at stake than state charges. There are substantial differences between charges filed at the state versus the federal level. If you are facing federal charges, you need to get immediate legal representation from a criminal defense attorney who has experience practicing in federal court.

Differences Between Federal Offenses and Pennsylvania State Offenses

The United States Code includes the various federal crimes that can be prosecuted by federal prosecutors and investigated by federal agents. Pennsylvania’s criminal laws are found in Pennsylvania Crimes Code and certain statutes contained in the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. Within the United States Code, Title 18 is the section that specifically deals with federal crimes.
Federal crimes are offenses that are described by the United States Code—a document composed of laws passed by Congress—while state crimes are offenses that are described by state criminal codes. In Texas, the most common source of state codes describing offenses is the Texas Penal Code. Title 18 of the United States Code is the portion of federal law that deals specifically with federal criminal law.

In addition to different bodies of law, federal and state crimes also differ based on which agencies investigate and prosecute them. The President of the United States holds the ultimate authority to enforce federal laws and delegates this authority to various federal agencies, including the FBI, ATF, DHS, SEC, and the Secret Service. During their investigations, these agencies might ask for and receive cooperation from state and local law enforcement agencies.

Differences Between Federal Offenses and Pennsylvania State Offenses

While state crimes are prosecuted in state courts located in jurisdictions throughout the state, federal crimes are prosecuted in federal courts in the U.S. District Courts of the Eastern, Western, or Middle Districts of Pennsylvania. The federal courts follow different rules and procedures than the state courts. Some crimes are only illegal under federal law. However, others can be prosecuted under either federal or state law.

Why Are Federal Charges More Severe than State Charges?

Most federal criminal offenses carry more severe penalties than the corresponding offenses under state law. Federal indictments often carry harsher penalties because national interests may be at stake. While some federal offenses do not carry harsher penalties than state charges, most federal criminal convictions will carry longer terms of incarceration, heavier fines, and additional statutory penalties.

For example, federal drug crimes carry lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences. Federal judges generally follow the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which establish minimum mandatory sentences and provide different factors that judges can consider to aggravate or mitigate sentences. People who are convicted of federal crimes are sent to federal prison instead of state prison.

Since the federal government and federal prosecutors generally have more resources and staff available to devote to federal prosecution, defending against federal charges can be more difficult. In some cases, a state prosecutor might overlook evidence that would not be overlooked by a federal prosecutor because of this difference in staff and resources.

Types of Federal Crimes

USC Title 18 lists hundreds of different federal crimes. Some of the most common types of crimes that are prosecuted at the federal level include the following:

  • Arson
  • Bank robbery
  • Child pornography
  • Counterfeiting
  • Credit card fraud
  • Drug trafficking
  • Identity theft
  • Internet crimes
  • Mail fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Sexual assault
  • Tax fraud and tax evasion
  • Weapons charges
  • White-collar crimes
  • Wire fraud

Many of these offenses can also be prosecuted at the state level instead of the federal level. If the federal government files federal charges, Pennsylvania state prosecutors will normally dismiss their state criminal charges and allow the federal prosecutors to take over. By contrast, people have fewer protections against being prosecuted for the same criminal conduct under federal law, and nothing precludes the federal government from prosecuting someone who has been prosecuted for the same crimes under state law.

Get Help from DiCindio Law

The experience and resources of federal prosecutors require defendants to mount strong defenses when they are facing federal charges. If you have been federally indicted or learned that you are under federal investigation, you must retain a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in practicing in both state and federal court. If you are being investigated but have not yet been indicted, your attorney might be able to secure an agreement from the federal prosecutor not to pursue an indictment in exchange for a civil resolution, depending on your charges. If you have already been indicted, your attorney can carefully investigate your case to build the strongest possible defense. Contact DiCindio Law today to request a consultation at (610) 430-3535.

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Michael DiCindio

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