What Makes a Crime a Federal Offense?
Standard crimes that violate laws created by state legislators are prosecuted in state courts as misdemeanors or felonies in the U.S.
Crimes that violate federal laws, which are passed by Congress, are investigated and prosecuted differently.
Generally speaking, federal crimes also incur more serious penalties, including lengthier prison sentences and more substantial fines.
Federal crimes vs state crimes
The majority of crimes in Florida are violations of state law. However, some crimes may be investigated and prosecuted at the federal level.
How does a crime become “federal”?
Typically, federal crimes are offenses that occur on federal property, involve federal employees and/or involve issues that have a national interest.
A few common examples include:
- Interstate trafficking in contraband goods
- Federal tax fraud
- Assault on a federal officer
More details about the types of federal crimes are included below.
A crime such as assault may be a state crime if perpetrated against a standard civilian but a federal crime if it involves a federal employee, “protected person”, international guest, or if it occurs on federal property.
Other crimes, like bank robbery, burglary, rape, and kidnapping, are both state and federal crimes and may be prosecuted in either federal or state court.
Typically, these crimes are prosecuted at the state level. State legislators use their general police powers and the state can decide in each case.
Federal laws are more difficult to pass as there must be a national interest. This limits federal jurisdiction and, by extension, the volume of crimes that can be prosecuted at the federal level.
The federal government has jurisdiction over the following broad categories of crime:
- Crimes that occur on federal land or involve federal officers, e.g., theft on a military base or an assault against an IRS agent. Read penalties here.
- Crimes involving fraud, deception, or misrepresentation on the federal government or one of its agencies, e.g., federal tax fraud or counterfeiting U.S. currency.
- Crimes where the defendant crosses state lines, e.g., smuggling marijuana from one state to another.
- Crimes where the criminal conduct crosses state lines, e.g., an Internet scam with victims and perpetrators in many states.
- Crimes involving immigration and customs violations, such as international human trafficking.
Major differences in the state and federal criminal processes
The investigation process into federal crimes involves federal agencies rather than county sheriffs, local police officers or state agents.
If you commit a federal crime, you will be investigated by organizations like the FBI, DEA or IRS, depending on the nature of your crime.
Such crimes are prosecuted in a federal court by the U.S. Attorney’s office, representing the United States government, rather than by a state district attorney.
The process involved in federal cases is generally longer and more intricate.
Note that it is possible in Florida for the same crime to be prosecuted in both state and federal court if it violates both state and federal law. This is called a “dual sovereign prosecution” and, while it is rare, the “double jeopardy” clause does not apply in such cases.
Specific types of federal crimes in the U.S.
We have already covered some broad categories of federal crimes in the U.S. But which crimes, specifically, are most commonly prosecuted at the federal level?
- Drug trafficking:Possessing certain amounts of illicit substances with an intent to sell or distribute may lead to severe punishments for the federal charge of drug trafficking.
- Tax evasion:If an individual refuses to pay taxes or commits fraud, the matter is treated as a federal crime.
- Immigration crimes:Attempting to illegally enter the country, human trafficking, and employing illegal individuals are all examples of immigration-related federal offenses.
- Medicare fraud:Medical providers collecting money for unnecessary or unrendered services is a federal crime, as is an unlicensed provider receiving payment for services.
- White-collar crime:Crimes committed by business/government professionals such as money laundering, embezzlement, fraud, and bribery may be dealt with at a federal level.
- Child pornography:Pornography involving children is illegal and can be prosecuted severely as a federal offense.
- Cyber-stalking:This modern type of crime occurs when someone uses the internet to harass or stalk another individual.
Major differences in the state and federal criminal processes
If you are charged with a federal crime, you may already have known that there was an arrest warrant out for you or it may come as a surprise.
Either way, try to say calm.
Your next steps are vital for the direction not only of your case but for your future. Resist the temptation to say or do anything that will harm your defense.
Generally speaking, it is best to politely refuse to answer any questions until you have spoken to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Your lawyer will help protect your rights and freedoms and start working on your defense by examining the evidence and obtaining your version of events.
Try to do the following once you have been charged with a federal crime:
- Contact a criminal defense lawyer – preferably one with extensive experience in defending the types of federal charges you are facing.
- Make notes – while everything is fresh in your mind, write down your version of events, factual details and any pertinent information that might be useful to your lawyer. At the top of each page of the document write “Attorney-Client Privileged”.
- Gather documentation – help your lawyer build your defense by gathering any pertinent documents to back up your case.
- Learn more about the federal charges you face – until your criminal defense attorney can explain everything to you, educate yourself on the charge(s) you are facing and the associated laws and penalties.
- Learn more about the federal court process – understanding what to expect will reduce the stress you feel. Your attorney will explain the process from the initial hearing to the trial, post-trial, sentencing and appeal. Ask plenty of questions so that you are comfortable with it.
- Prepare for case dismissal, plea bargain or trial with your lawyer – if the charges are not dismissed, you can discuss a plea bargain or fight the charges in a federal court with your attorney.
Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan Today
Whether a federal warrant has been issued against you or you have already been arrested and charged with a federal crime, it is important to immediately take steps to defend your rights and freedoms.
Call (305) 403-7323 or book a free online case evaluation with experienced federal defense attorney Nayib Hassan.