What Is the Difference Between State and Federal Prosecution?

In the United States, both the states and the federal government have the power to prosecute individuals for criminal offenses, with each having its own separate court system. Determining whether a defendant’s case will be tried in state or federal court largely depends upon the alleged crime committed and its associated jurisdiction, or the rights of the state and federal government to regulate certain behavior.

State courts have wide reaching jurisdiction and deal with cases involving the violation of state and local laws and ordinances, such as rape, traffic violations, murder, arson, and domestic violence. By and large, the majority of criminal cases are tried in state courts. In contrast, federal courts have jurisdiction over any crimes which occur on federal property or deal with a violation of federal statutes or the United States Constitution. Likewise, the federal government has jurisdiction over crimes in which criminal conduct crosses state lines or involve federal officers.

Federal crimes are prosecuted by a government agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Generally speaking, crimes prosecuted by the federal government are larger in scope than state crimes and can involve multiple defendants, carrying much harsher penalties upon conviction.

Crimes commonly prosecuted in federal courts include:

Can a Person Be Tried in Both Federal and State Courts?

Yes. Some crimes violate both state and federal law, thereby enabling both governments to bring criminal charges against a defendant. Take robbery, for example. While many state laws make robbery a crime, certain federal laws about robbery, such as the law that makes it a federal crime to rob a bank backed by a federal agency, grant the federal government the authority to prosecute an individual accused of robbery in federal courts in addition to their state trial.

While the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause protects individuals from multiple prosecutions by the same “sovereign,” since the states and federal government are considered different entities, successive prosecutions for the same crime does not violate this clause. In many cases involving crimes where both the federal government and the state’s share jurisdiction, one party will defer jurisdiction to the other and allow them to prosecute the defendant first. The deferring government will only step in and prosecute the defendant if the other prosecution should fail to secure a conviction. A prime example of this is in relation to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. While the involved officers were acquitted of all but one charge at the state level, a federal indictment ultimately led to the conviction of two of the four officers in federal court.

Charged with a Crime? Call Brad Bailey Law

If you have been accused of a crime, whether it be state or federal, it is imperative you retain powerful legal counsel as soon as possible to protect your future and freedom. At Brad Bailey Law, our aggressive Boston criminal defense attorneys have been fighting to guard the rights of the accused for more than 30 years and have handled thousands of criminal cases in both state and federal courts. To find out more about how our team of award-winning advocates can give you a fighting chance against your charges, call (617) 500-0252 or contact our office online today.

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