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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:29 am
The American legal system is divided into federal and state jurisdictions, with each level of government able to pass criminal laws and prosecute individuals. While most crimes are prosecuted at the state level, some are prosecuted federally if they involve issues of national importance. There are key differences between federal and state crimes in how they are prosecuted and the typical sentences imposed.
The majority of crimes prosecuted in the United States are state crimes like assault, theft, drunk driving, and murder. These are prosecuted in state courts based on violations of state criminal statutes.
In comparison, federal crimes make up a smaller portion of total prosecutions and involve issues of national significance like:
Some examples of federal crimes include:
Some crimes can be charged federally or at the state level depending on the circumstances. For example, an assault in a local bar would typically be a state crime, but assaulting a federal employee on federal property could trigger federal charges.
Federal and state crimes are prosecuted in entirely separate court systems, from investigation through trial and sentencing.
This means federal judges generally have life tenure, while state judges serve terms of a defined number of years.
One major difference between federal and state crimes is the typical length of sentences imposed:
In addition to longer prison terms, federal crimes can also trigger huge financial penalties. Federal white-collar prosecutions often involve forfeitures and fines in the millions of dollars.
Beyond harsher sentences, a federal conviction can have other far-reaching consequences:
The Double Jeopardy clause prevents being prosecuted twice for the same criminal offense. However, under the dual sovereignty doctrine, federal and state governments are considered separate sovereigns.
This means federal prosecution can proceed even if the person was already prosecuted for the same crime at the state level. The reverse is also true – a state can prosecute even after a federal conviction.
While legally allowed, dual prosecutions are rare in practice because they consume substantial prosecutorial resources. But it remains a possibility in serious cases.
If you are facing potential federal charges, it is essential to retain legal counsel experienced in the federal system. The harsh sentencing guidelines and complex procedures make federal prosecutions extremely high stakes. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can fully advise you of the options in your particular case.
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