Federal vs. State Crimes

The difference between federal and state crimes can be confusing, especially when the charged offenses seem similar. How does someone know if a crime will be prosecuted by the state or by the federal government? 


This blog post explains how federal crimes and prosecutions differ from those prosecuted by the State of Florida. Only criminal defense lawyers with extensive experience in each of the two court systems should be trusted to safeguard your rights and your liberty when you are charged with a crime.  


Unlike many other lawyers who work primarily in state court, or who only dabble in federal court, Tampa’s Stechschulte Nell, Criminal Defense Attorneys at Law, provide informed, practiced, and aggressive legal representation in the United States District Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and all levels of the Florida criminal courts.  


Stechschulte Nell Criminal Defense is among the very few Florida law firms where each lawyer holds an Expert Certification in their practice area. Trust only the best. If you need criminal defense representation in any Florida or United States federal court, contact Stechschulte Nell today. 



State Jurisdiction vs. Federal Jurisdiction (What’s the difference?) 


“Jurisdiction” is the official power to make legal decisions and judgments. In the United States, we operate under a system of federalism in which the same territory is governed by two levels of government, two jurisdictions. In our case, the State of Florida enacts laws to provide for the general peace, security, and health of the people within its borders.  


The federal government also has the power to control matters within the same geographical area, but only those that affect interstate commerce, federal officers or property, federal funds, or other criminal activity that crosses state lines. 


Typically, a state’s criminal prosecutions involve crimes that occur entirely within the state. For example, murder, assault, burglary, sexual assault, and other violent or local property crimes are all prosecuted as state crimes. On the other hand, if a sexual assault victim was transported over state lines against their will, or if a Florida victim was defrauded over the internet by someone in Texas, the federal government’s jurisdiction would be triggered. 


An example that sometimes appears in the news involves the murder of a person based on their race. The crime of murder is a violation of state law. The state prosecutes the murder charge. If the murderer was racially motivated, that would violate a federal law that prohibits violating the victim’s civil rights. The federal government prosecutes the violation of that federal crime. A state court murder conviction would bring a state court sentence. The federal court conviction would result in a federal sentence. The same criminal act could violate two separate criminal statutes, one state and one federal. 


State Criminal Law v. Federal Criminal Law 


When criminal charges are filed against a defendant, the alleged crime is specifically identified in the charging document. The criminal complaint or indictment recites precisely what criminal statute the prosecution believes was violated.  


In Florida, the state legislature writes and passes into law the Florida Statutes. In Washington, D.C., the United States Congress writes the federal criminal law in the United States Code.  


What Are Common Federal Crimes? 


Some of the most common federal crimes are described here, but it is important to remember that every one of these offenses could be accompanied by associated criminal charges for anyone who conspires or attempts to commit any one of these crimes.  


Federal crimes prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys for the United States Department of Justice include any criminal conduct that occurs on federal property (in any federal building, U.S. Post Office, federal courthouse, VA Hospital property, military base, national park, an Indian reservation, etc.)


Federal jurisdiction also crimes of violence against federal officers or officials working in the DOJ, FBI, DEA, IRS, EPA, USDA, US Marshall Service, Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Parks, U.S Courts, United States Congress, etc. 


Financial crimes, thefts, and fraud are also within the jurisdiction of the federal government if it involves any federal program like Medicaid, Medicare, HUD, Social Security, or any federal contract for goods or services involving funds appropriated by the U.S. government. Many of these financial offenses carry related money laundering charges because the funds taken illegally are transferred and falsely classified by the offender. 


Interstate criminal conduct using the mail, electronic devices over state borders, or the interstate transportation of kidnapping or sex trafficking victims, drugs, stolen property, etc.  


Dual-Sovereignty Doctrine (Crimes Violating Both State and Federal Law) 


An occasional issue arises when a defendant is prosecuted in state court for violation of a state criminal statute and then prosecuted again because the same acts also violated a federal criminal statute. The usual response by most people who hear of this situation is “double jeopardy, right?” 


Under the Dual-Sovereignty Doctrine, in some circumstances, a defendant can legally be prosecuted for the same criminal acts in both state court and federal court. The theory was upheld in 2019 when the U.S. Supreme court upheld the conviction of a man who was previously convicted of a felony and was found to be in possession of a gun.  


Both state and criminal statutes separately prohibit the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. First, the State of Alabama prosecuted the defendant and he pleaded guilty and was sentenced. Then federal prosecutors indicted the defendant for violating the federal statute against a felon possessing a firearm. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that the federal prosecution amounted to double jeopardy, ruling that separate sovereigns can each enact separate statutes declaring separate offenses.  


The Experienced Federal and State Criminal Defense Lawyers 


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, our extensive experience in federal court and state court enables our certified criminal defense lawyers to immediately access every possible avenue in the applicable law to protect our clients’ procedural and substantive rights.  


If you or a member of your family needs professional, skilled, experienced criminal representation, do not reach for a novice or a lawyer who dabbles in serious federal or state litigation. Get the experts. Contact Stechschulte Nell today. 813-280-1244.  

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