Federal vs. State Offenses
Criminal offenses encompass various criminal matters and can be charged as a state crime or a federal crime. State crimes can include offenses such as robbery and traffic violations. Federal crimes can include offenses committed in federal property or actions such as human trafficking. If you are facing criminal charges for a state or federal offense, it is important to understand that they are different procedures that must be followed.
Procedures & Prosecution
Federal crimes are investigated by a federal agent or officer, such as DEA agents. The prosecutors are often U.S. Attorneys, and the president appoints the judges. Furthermore, the procedure for federal cases includes the burden of proof, pretrial, trial, and sentencing. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is on the U.S. Attorney or the government. That is to say that the government must show evidence that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” As a result of the government having to prove that the defendant is guilty, the federal court can have various discoverable material, and they might involve other law enforcement agencies. Due to all the evidence that they have to consider, the prosecution can be lengthy.
On the other hand, in state crimes police officers or county sheriffs are the investigators, the prosecutors are state district or city attorneys, and the judges are typically appointed by governors. In addition, the steps in Texas’ criminal justice system in a criminal case include arrest, indictment, plea bargaining, trial, and post-trial. Generally, prosecutions are quick compared to federal court.
Some criminal offenses are under state prosecutions because they are a violation of state laws. Similarly, some criminal acts are offenses under federal law because it is a federal or national issue (i.e., crimes committed on federal property). Nevertheless, there are criminal offenses that can fall under both federal and state laws, and therefore, the defendant can be prosecuted in either federal or state court.
If a defendant conducts a criminal offense that violates state and federal laws, the defendant can face criminal prosecution in both state and federal courts. Many individuals tend to believe that the Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects them from being charged for the same criminal offense in state and federal court. However, this is not the case. Although the clause does protect any persons from being tried twice by the same sovereign for the same offense, there is an exception known as the “separate sovereigns doctrine.” This is important because the states and federal government are separate; thus, a person can be tried in both state and federal court for the same criminal offense. See Gamble v. United States, 587 U.S.__(2019)
Texas state courts handle criminal and civil cases. Texas’ criminal justice system is meant to protect the people, and that includes the accused. If you are a defendant, the Texas criminal justice system must ensure that you are treated equally in legal matters. Crimes can be categories as felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. A felony is the most serious crime and has severe penalties. Being convicted of a felony can include serving time in jail or state prison. The punishment in a felony charge varies depending on multiple factors, such as the nature of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. Being charged with a misdemeanor is not as serious as a felony; however, they should not be taken lightly. Common penalties for misdemeanor offenses can include hefty fines, probation, and/or having to serve jail time if convicted. Infractions are an offense typically done while operating a motor vehicle and are usually punishable with a fine such as receiving a speeding ticket.
Various factors affect your penalty in a criminal case, for example, the nature of the crime committed. The penal code for a criminal offense can be complicated because there are many variations and exceptions in classifying criminal behavior. For instance, felonies are divided into categories, and misdemeanors are divided into classes such as class A misdemeanor or class B misdemeanor. Usually, punishments for criminal offenses in state court can include having to serve a sentence in prison or state jail, paying a fine, and/or community supervision.
- Felony – Generally, felonies are more serious crimes, and if the defendant is found guilty of committing a felony, he or she may have to serve time in either county jail or state prison. However, with some state felony convictions, the defendant would only serve half their actual sentence in state prison.
- Misdemeanor –A person who is found guilty of a misdemeanor, he or she can be fined or sentenced to serve up to one year in jail (depending on the offense), or both. In some cases, the defendant can be offered community service and/or probation.
- Infractions – The least serious crime and is punishable with a fine.
Generally, most crimes are violations of state laws, and the state has jurisdiction. If the crime is a state offense, the state has the power to decide the case, and it can be tried in state court. Likewise, if the criminal offense falls under the federal jurisdiction, then the federal government has the power to decide the case.
If you are facing federal or state criminal charges, it is imperative that you retain professional legal assistance. The federal justice system has an abundance of resources and highly qualified, knowledgeable prosecutors. It is crucial to act immediately if you are under investigation or facing federal charges because your future depends on it. In federal criminal cases, there is always the potential of various problems arising, therefore the sooner you are able to obtain an attorney, the better your chances of a favorable outcome.
Below are instances in which the federal government would have jurisdiction on a criminal offense:
- Crime that takes place on federal property – For instance, murdering a person in a government-owned building.
- Any crime that involves federal agents/officers – A criminal act against a federal agent such as assaulting a DEA agent falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
- Committing a criminal offense that crosses state lines – This can include kidnapping a person and crossing state lines.
- A criminal offense where the criminal act crosses state lines – For example, when a person commits internet fraud, many people are affected throughout multiple states.
- Custom violations – This can include smuggling (e.g., drugs, weapons), violating importing duties (e.g., canceling the origin of the import and value to evade paying import taxed, importing child pornography), violating exporting regulations (i.e., many products are subject to limitations and restrictions), and making false statements during custom provisions.
Below are a few potential problems that can arise in a federal criminal case:
- Obtained Evidence Illegally – When a federal agent violates the constitutional rights of a suspect or defendant, any evidence that was obtained as a result of a violation is illegally-obtained. Furthermore, evidence that has been illegally-obtained is inadmissible in federal court; however, there are limitations and exceptions. (See Exclusionary Rule)
- Conspiracy Against the United States – If a person conspires to either commit any offense against or to defraud the United States, they can be fined or imprisoned. In other words, if a federal prosecutor can argue that you were part (formally or informally) of an agreement to a federal crime or that there is “proof of an overt act,” the case can be prosecuted in federal court (See 18 U.S.C. § 371).
- Multiple Charges for Related & Unrelated Crimes – Some federal statutes have severe penalties for acts that are done in conjunction with specific criminal conduct or further the activities of specific criminal behavior (See Kellett v Superior Court (1966) 63 Cal.2d 822).
A sentence for a criminal offense can include one or some of the following: having to serve time in federal prison, paying a fine, and/or restitution to be paid to the victim of the offense. Moreover, the court enforces conditions as part of the sentence, for example, having the offenders attend substance abuse treatment programs, job counseling, or having mandatory substance abuse test and alternative detention options such as being confined at home.
The following federal law enforcement agencies are responsible for investigating federal crimes: The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms, and the Secret Service. If a federal law enforcement agency investigates the offense or if the offense falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government, the case will fall within the federal court’s jurisdiction. In addition, if the verdict is guilty, federal judges consider several sources to make the sentence for the defendant. The judge considers the U.S. Sentencing Commissions guidelines, which establishes the maximum and minimum punishment for certain crimes (See 2018 Guidelines). Other sources the judge takes into consideration are the evidence produced during the trial, relevant information provided by the U.S. Attorney, the defense attorney, the pretrial service officer, and statements from the victims, and defendant. Moreover, the judge may also consider a variety of other factors, for example, prior criminal offenses, if the defendant expresses remorse or regret for their crime, and the crime that was committed.
In a federal court case, many factors can negatively impact the outcome of your case, such as having multiple charges for related or unrelated offenses. Therefore, the penalties for an offense can increase. For instance, in the case of child pornography possession, the defendant is already facing severe punishment. Nevertheless, the sentence can increase for various reasons that are part of the underlying offense. The relationship between the defendant and the child in the case can affect the defendant’s final sentencing. If convicted of a federal offense, the defendant will have to serve their sentence in federal prison.
Regardless of the situation, retaining an attorney should be your first choice. Federal sentencing and penalties are much harsher and sever. Having an experienced, qualified, and assertive lawyer represent you is in your best interest.
Type of Criminal Offenses
The Gonzalez Law Group, PLLC represents people facing misdemeanor or felony charges for such criminal offenses as:
- Crimes involving Drugs and narcotics:
- Crimes involving driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs:
- Crimes against property:
- Crimes involving Federal offenses:
- Drug Trafficking – 21 U.S.C. § 841 states the federal laws for manufacturing, distributing, or possession of a controlled substance or counterfeit substance. Drug offenses/trafficking can fall under both federal and state jurisdictions because you are crossing state lines.
- Human Trafficking – 22 U.S.C. § 7102 pertains to trafficking in persons as a crime under federal law and that involves exploiting a person for labor, commercial sex, and services. Also, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA) deals with prevention, protection, and prosecution.
- Federal Crimes
- White Collar Crimes
- Violent Crimes and assault:
- Family violence and sex-related crimes:
- Child Abuse
- Endangerment of a Child
- Domestic Violence
- Improper Relationships
- Indecent Exposure
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Child Pornography – 18 U.S.C. § 2251 states the federal laws on child pornography. Allegations of child pornography should be taken seriously. Prosecutors are ruthless to defendants accused of crimes related to child pornography. A child pornography case can be prosecuted in state and federal court. If the child pornography offense can fall under federal jurisdiction if it occurred in interstate or foreign commerce. For example, if the defendant used U.S. Mail to distribute child pornography across state or international lines. Also, if the defendant used the internet to commit a child pornography violation, they can still be prosecuted by the federal government. This is because although the image did not cross international borders or across state lines, federal law can be implicated if the material (i.e., computer being used to commit the crime) traveled in interstate or foreign commerce.
- Other types of criminal defense: