If you were accused of committing a crime in Florida, you’re not alone. Innocent people are arrested every day for crimes they didn’t commit, and others are good people who simply made a poor choice.
Although there are many key differences between state and federal criminal cases, the primary distinction between the two comes down to jurisdiction, or the types of cases each court is authorized to hear. From the perspective of a defendant, however, the differences are more dramatic; there is typically a lot more on the line in a federal case.
At the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A., our highly-knowledgeable defense team has successfully defended countless clients against federal charges. We have a deep understanding of crimes like yours, as well as how to formulate the most effective legal strategy for each client’s unique situation. We will ensure that you fully understand your rights and options before moving forward and will remain by your side throughout the entire process. Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. today at (305) 403-7323 for a free and confidential case about your case.
State Court vs. Federal Court
Generally speaking, state courts have much broader jurisdiction. They typically hear cases involving family disputes, traffic violations, assault, robbery, and offenses commonly committed by individual citizens, whereas federal courts are only authorized to hear cases in which:
- The United States is a party;
- There are violations of the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, or treaties;
- There is a legal dispute involving foreign citizens or between citizens of different states; and
- The case involves a bankruptcy, maritime law, or copyright or patent law.
In certain cases, parties can choose whether to go to state or federal court as both have jurisdiction. For example, employment discrimination is prohibited by both state and federal laws. An individual who has been discriminated against at work can choose to have their case heard in federal or state court, whether the case in question is civil or criminal in nature.
If you have been charged with any type of crime, it is essential to hire experienced legal counsel immediately. Contact a Florida federal criminal defense attorney today to protect your rights and determine how to proceed.
You can usually tell if a case will be charged as a federal crime by determining whether or not any federal agencies are involved. If a robbery is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for example, the crime will be prosecuted and tried in federal court.
But the FBI is far from the only federal agency; if the Fish and Wildlife Service or even the U.S. Postal Service is involved, the case will also be heard in federal court. Federal agencies include:
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Fish and Wildlife Service
- Health and Human Services
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Internal Revenue Services
- U.S. Marshals Service
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service
- U.S. Secret Service
Types of Federal Crimes
As federal crimes are investigated and prosecuted by the federal court, rather than the state court, federal crimes are generally considered to be more serious and frequently carry more severe punishments as a result. Common examples of federal crimes include:
- Immigration offenses—Although the nature of the offense can be as minor as a visitor who overstays her visa or as major as smuggling drugs or weapons into the country, cases involving immigration are prosecuted in federal court.
- Drug crimes—Although drug crimes may be prosecuted in the state court, they are often tried in federal court due to the involvement of federal agents. The federal agencies often involved in drug-related cases include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). While simple possession charges will likely be prosecuted in state court, charges for drug trafficking are usually prosecuted in the federal system, in an effort to prevent drugs from entering the country.
- Crimes involving illegal firearms—Often charged in conjunction with other crimes, the illegal possession of firearms is usually tried in federal court and frequently carries extremely long prison sentences. According to a study of 94,678 federal prisoners conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, a weapon was involved in the most recent offense for nearly a quarter of all drug offenders in federal prison.
- White collar crimes—Although not usually considered to be as serious as some federal offenses, white collar crimes are frequently prosecuted and tried in federal court because their financial nature often attracts the attention of the federal government. Examples of white collar crimes include tax fraud and identity theft.
Other Situations in Which an Offense May Be Charged as a Federal Crime
The list above is far from exhaustive; there are plenty of other situations in which a crime that would normally be charged in the state court is heard in federal court. For example, although robbery is typically a state crime, if the defendant robbed a bank insured by a federal agency, the case would be prosecuted as a federal crime.
A criminal offense committed on federal property, such as an assault that occurs in a national park, would also be charged as a federal crime. Even using the U.S. mail in the commission of a crime can elevate a state crime to the federal level.
When State Law Violates Federal Law
If there is concern that state law violates the Constitution, an offense that would normally be a state crime may also be heard in federal court. Consider the following scenario: State law prohibits the slaughter of animals in a non-licensed area. A case involving a man who slaughtered a goat during a religious sacrifice is brought to state court. The court rules that he is prohibited to continue the practice. Knowing that his religious activity is protected by the Constitution, the man challenges the infringement in federal court and is permitted to continue.
Regardless of the type of charges you are facing, it is in your best interest to seek immediate legal counsel. A criminal record can haunt you for years, even when the offense was minor. A record can prevent you from getting housing and employment, and it can even impact child custody arrangements. Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. today at (305) 403-7323 for a free and confidential case about your case.
How are Federal Cases Different From Other Cases?
A federal case involves matters that raise a “federal question,” which essentially translates to involvement by the U.S. government, Constitution, federal laws, or disputes between parties from different states or countries in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Federal cases are different from state cases in many ways, but the most common differences are discussed in detail below:
They are broader in scope.
Generally speaking, federal cases are broader in scope and viewed as more serious than state crimes. As such, they are typically punished more harshly. It is common for federal cases to involve 10 or more defendants; some have up to 50. In contrast, it is extremely rare for state cases to involve more than one or two defendants.
They allow room for circumstantial evidence.
Evidence is also viewed quite differently in federal cases. While state cases rely on hard evidence, federal cases are often largely based on circumstantial evidence alone. For example, if a witness testifies that he went to the defendant’s warehouse to buy a gun, and that “the warehouse contained hundreds of illegal firearms,” the federal case may be based on the possession and distribution of hundreds of illegal firearms. This is despite the fact that the warehouse no longer exists and the witness could be lying.
They embrace hearsay.
Federal cases also frequently allow forms of hearsay, such as when a co-defendant accuses another defendant of being the ring leader of a criminal operation. For example, if Greg, who is a defendant in the illegal firearms case above, testifies that Victor was purchasing and distributing dozens of firearms every month without any of the other defendants’ knowledge, Greg’s statement would likely be admissible in a federal case, even if it is uncorroborated (unconfirmed by evidence).
State cases, on the other hand, would never embrace this type of hearsay, nor the historical, circumstantial evidence described above. In a state case, unless a co-defendant’s statement is corroborated, it cannot be used to support a conviction. State cases are inherently skeptical of co-conspirator evidence, and for good reason; by pointing the finger at another defendant, the person giving the statement effectively takes at least some of the heat off himself.
They frequently involve conspiracy.
In criminal cases, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, whether or not that act was ever completed. Although conspiracies are prohibited at both state and federal levels, they are rarely involved in state cases. Federal cases, on the other hand, frequently allege conspiracy.
They only require a preponderance of evidence.
In state cases, crimes must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas in federal cases, crimes need only be based on a preponderance of evidence, which essentially means that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the claim is true.
Considering the very powerful distinctions between state and federal crimes, courts, and penalties, it should go without saying that a federal crime should only be handled by a defense attorney who has successfully defended many clients against federal charges. Hiring solid legal counsel is always important if you are facing criminal charges, but in federal cases, your attorney can be the difference between a clean record and decades behind bars.
What to Look for When Hiring a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing federal criminal charges, you need a federal criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer who normally represents clients in state crimes, or one whose practice consists mainly of federal civil cases simply won’t cut it. The stakes in federal cases are too high, and they frequently involve lengthy sentences and massive financial penalties. For these reasons and many others, it is imperative to hire an attorney with significant experience in federal court; a little experience won’t do. Ask potential candidates how many federal trials and federal sentencing hearings they have had, and research their record with prior cases.
At the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A., our experienced, compassionate federal defense team knows how stressful and scary being charged with a federal crime can be. You have anxiety about the future, fear about how a conviction will impact your loved ones, and a million questions. We have the answers.
Rest assured that our entire legal team is prepared to fight tirelessly to protect your rights, reputation, and freedom. In addition to our extensive knowledge of Florida state laws and the federal criminal justice system, our firm has handled thousands of cases ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Nayib Hassan is a former Assistant State Attorney, and the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. was named as a Top 100 Trial Lawyers by National Trial Lawyers.
If you’ve been charged with a federal crime, you need a veteran Florida federal criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. today at (305) 403-7323 for a free and confidential case about your case.
Federal Criminal Laws
Although there are many differences between state and federal criminal laws, the main distinction is simple—state crimes occur when people break state laws and federal crimes occur when people break federal laws. State laws vary widely from state to state, but federal law is uniform, nationwide.
When a crime crosses state or country lines, is investigated by a government agency, or in any way involves the U.S. government, it is a federal crime and will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as such. If you are convicted of a state crime, you will serve your time in a state prison, whereas if you are convicted of a federal crime, you will be sent to a federal prison.
Contradictions Between State and Federal Law
For the most part, the Constitutions gives states the power to govern themselves. When the welfare of the entire country is concerned, however, federal law comes into play. There are some contradictions between state and federal law (most notably with regard to marijuana regulations), but federal law supersedes state law when conflicts arise.
One example of how this contradiction often plays out in Florida involves medical marijuana use and gun ownership. Even though your medical marijuana prescription is legal under Florida state law, the use of marijuana is still considered to be illegal under federal law. If you wish to buy a gun and are honest about your prescription on ATF Form 4473 (required for purchase of a firearm), you will be prohibited from making buying the gun. In fact, the form still includes the following statement:
Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized.
Residents of Florida are subject to state laws and federal laws, just as are residents of all 50 states. In addition to the laws set forth by the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes are sometimes codified into law. When a crime is committed that involves a violation of one of these federal laws, the offense will be prosecuted in federal court. If you are facing federal criminal charges, it is in your best interest to seek legal counsel immediately.
Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. Today
If you have been charged with a crime, the skilled legal team at the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. can help. Our experienced, tenacious defense lawyers have successfully fought for the rights of countless clients, and we have an impressive track record of obtaining the results our clients want in a timely manner. People make mistakes. We are not here to judge; we are here to protect your reputation and your freedom.
Do not attempt to go through this process without the help of a highly-knowledgeable criminal defense team by your side. With nearly 15 years’ experience helping clients navigate the criminal justice system, we know how to position you for the best outcome. Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan, P.A. today at (305) 403-7323 for a free and confidential case about your case.