How Are State and Federal Charges Different?

If you are facing criminal charges in West Palm Beach and they are somewhat serious, you may not be certain if you will be prosecuted in state or federal court. Many people do not know the difference between state and federal charges, so I am going to help clear the matter up for you.

In the United States, we have two justice systems: the state courts and the federal courts. State charges are prosecuted in state courts, whereas federal cases are prosecuted in federal courts.

Congress establishes federal crimes in the U.S. and state legislators establish state-level crimes. So, if a crime is committed it comes down to whether the crime violated state or federal law.

Sometimes a crime, such as identity theft is criminalized under state and federal law. When that happens, the state and federal prosecutors will decide whether the case should be tried in state or federal court.

Often, when someone commits a crime that is criminalized under both state and federal law, it will be charged on the federal level, but not always. However, if a crime is only criminalized under state law, it will NOT be prosecuted in federal court.

State Prosecutions are More Common

By far the majority of cases are prosecuted in the state courts. Most thefts, robberies, drug crimes, rapes, and murders are all prosecuted in the state courts because it's usually the state courts that have jurisdiction.

While there are dozens of federal crimes, many of them involve fraud, scams, and crimes that are committed across state borders. Quite a few white collar crimes are prosecuted in federal court, but they can also be prosecuted on the state level.

Common examples of federal crimes, include:

  • Bribery
  • Kidnapping
  • Embezzlement
  • Identity theft
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Bankruptcy fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Insurance fraud

A large percentage of federal crimes are financially-motivated and therefore involve white collar professionals and government officials. Highly-sophisticated government agencies such as the FBI, the IRS, the DEA, and the SEC are actively involved in tracking down and prosecuting people who commit white collar crimes, and they do it in collaboration with local and state law enforcement.

Penalties for Federal Crimes Are Harsher

As a general rule, the penalties for a federal offense are much harsher than they are for a similar state-level offense. On a side note, you may be interested to know that the state prisons are notorious for being more dangerous than federal prisons.

State prisons have less security than the federal prisons. Unlike federal prisons where there are a higher percentage of educated, white collar professionals, the state prisons are where the violent criminals are housed, such as those who convicted of aggravated assault, sexual battery, manslaughter and murder.

There are also significantly more gangs in the state prison system.

If you are facing state or federal criminal charges in West Palm Beach, I urge you to contact my firm for a free case evaluation. Call (561) 475-2752 for assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!


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