Things to Know About Federal Theft Charges

Federal law enforcement agencies often focus on large-scale drug distribution schemes, guns, and human trafficking. But theft is also one of the major crimes federal authorities prosecute. It may be surprising that the federal government would focus on theft because most theft offenses seem more appropriate for state police to prosecute. But theft offenses involving federal funds, interstate transportation of stolen goods, or theft schemes involving telecommunications, computers, email, or any interstate communications can also fall under the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement agencies. 

At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we represent people accused of crimes wherever they are prosecuted, in state or federal court. It’s important for everyone to understand how federal theft crimes are handled and how they differ from state theft offenses. This article explains the key facts you should know about federal theft charges. 



Federal Jurisdiction and Elements of Theft


Federal theft charges typically arise when the alleged offense involves activities that cross state lines or impact interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government the authority to prosecute theft cases with interstate implications. Understanding the concept of interstate commerce and how it applies to the alleged theft is essential in comprehending why federal charges were brought. 


Federal theft charges can arise when the alleged theft activities cross state lines or impact interstate commerce in some way. The federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute theft cases that involve activities that affect commerce between states, even if the theft itself occurred within a single state. Here are some examples of theft cases that can be charged federally: 



  • Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property: If stolen property is transported across state lines, it can trigger federal jurisdiction. This includes cases where stolen goods are transported with the intent to sell or distribute them in another state. 


  • Theft from Interstate Shipments: Stealing property from a shipment that is in the process of being transported across state lines can lead to federal charges. This includes theft from trucks, trains, airplanes, and other modes of interstate transportation. 


  • Robbery or Burglary of Federally Regulated Businesses: Businesses that are involved in activities that are subject to federal regulation, such as banks, credit unions, and federally licensed firearms dealers, are protected by federal law. Robberies or burglaries of these establishments can result in federal charges. 


  • Bank Fraud and Embezzlement: Theft-related crimes involving financial institutions often fall under federal jurisdiction. This includes cases of bank fraud, embezzlement from banks, and other fraudulent activities that impact the financial industry. 


  • Theft of Government Property: Stealing property owned by the federal government, including military equipment, government vehicles, and sensitive documents, can lead to federal theft charges. 


  • Intellectual Property Theft: Theft of intellectual property, such as trade secrets, patents, and copyrights, that affects interstate commerce can result in federal charges, often under laws related to economic espionage and intellectual property theft. 


  • Identity Theft and Fraud: Identity theft and various types of fraud, such as credit card fraud and wire fraud, can have interstate implications and federal jurisdiction, especially if the victims and perpetrators are located in different states. 


  • Cargo Theft: Theft of cargo from commercial shipments, including items transported by trucks, trains, or ships across state lines, can result in federal charges due to the interstate nature of the theft. 


  • Counterfeiting: Manufacturing or distributing counterfeit currency, goods, or products can lead to federal charges, particularly if the counterfeit items are intended to be sold or distributed across state lines. 


  • Organized Crime and Racketeering: Cases involving organized crime groups engaging in theft, extortion, and other criminal activities that have an impact on interstate commerce can fall under federal jurisdiction, often through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. 


Legal Defenses to Federal Theft Charges


Getting an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is crucial when facing federal theft charges. Knowing how to determine the most effective defense strategy under the circumstances of your individual case is a skill a lawyer develops only after many years of hands-on legal practice.  


With federal theft charges, a range of legal strategies and defenses could be employed, including: 


Lack of Intent: Demonstrating that there was no intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property can be a powerful defense. 


Mistaken Identity: If the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the one who committed the theft, mistaken identity can be raised as a defense. 


Consent: If the owner of the property gave consent for the defendant to take it, this can be a valid defense against theft charges. 


Lack of Evidence: Challenging the legality of the prosecution’s evidence, including moving to suppress evidence because it was illegally seized, or successfully challenging the credibility or reliability of the government’s witnesses can weaken their case. 


An experienced federal criminal defense attorney analyzes the circumstances and tailors a defense strategy that aligns with the specific case details. 


Potential for Collateral Consequences


Federal theft charges not only entail criminal penalties but can also lead to collateral consequences. These consequences extend beyond the courtroom and can impact various aspects of the defendant’s life. For instance, a conviction can result in the loss of professional licenses, difficulties in finding employment, and damage to personal reputation. Understanding these potential consequences underscores the urgency of securing effective legal representation. 


Need Defense for Federal Theft Charges? 


If you’re grappling with federal theft charges or under the microscope for any federal crime, don’t leave your future to chance. The Tampa-based criminal defense team at Stechschulte Nell is renowned for crafting robust defenses tailored to the specifics of your case.


The clock is ticking—ensure you’re protected by the best. Reach out to Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, at 813-280-1244 today. 

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