Facing criminal charges can be overwhelming. Both federal and state courts try different types of offenses depending on the circumstances. The legal process, penalties and other factors vary by jurisdiction.
Understanding the differences between federal and state charges is essential if you or a loved one has a pending criminal court date.
Nature of the offense
Federal charges typically involve violations of federal laws, such as drug trafficking across state lines and organized crime. Offenses that occur on federal property also have federal court jurisdiction. State charges relate to violations of state laws, including crimes like theft, assault and driving under the influence.
Resources and expertise
Federal prosecutors are generally highly experienced. Federal investigations tend to be thorough and well-funded. State cases vary widely in resources. Larger cities and counties often have well-equipped law enforcement agencies and experienced prosecutors. However, small jurisdictions may have limited resources.
In addition, the involvement of specific agencies often indicates the jurisdiction of the case. Federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration handle federal criminal investigations. State law enforcement agencies, like state police or county sheriff’s offices, investigate state-level crimes.
Severity of penalties
Federal charges generally carry harsher penalties, including longer prison sentences and heftier fines. Federal courts adhere to federal sentencing guidelines, which can result in stricter punishments for convicted individuals. State charges may lead to varied penalties depending on the severity of the crime and the specific state laws governing the offense.
Federal and state courts follow different procedural rules. Federal courts have specific rules of evidence and civil procedure unique to federal cases. State courts operate under their own set of rules, often varying from one state to another. These procedural differences can impact the legal strategy and defense available.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 2.3% of federal criminal cases went to trial in 2022. The court convicted 82.6% of those individuals, a total of 1,379 people.
If you have to navigate criminal charges, your options and potential penalties depend on jurisdiction. Knowing the difference between federal and state prosecution can help you make informed decisions at this challenging time.