What’s the Difference Between a Federal & State Crime?

There are lots of different criminal offenses, and in fact several are
illegal on many different levels. The majority of offenses are prosecuted
either on the state level or on the federal level. However, few people
actually understand the difference between these two designations and
what it might mean for their case. On this blog, we’ll explain it
in greater detail.

Priority of Jurisdiction

While the United States is a union of different states under the umbrella
of a common federal government, the federal government actually delegates
a number of responsibilities and decisions back to the states themselves.
This includes the ability to make their own laws, enforce them, and try
those who are accused of breaking them in court. The terms “state
crime” and “federal crime” refer to the court that a
case is tried in. State level crimes are tried in state courts and federal
crimes in federal courts.

But how do you know which court your case will be tried in? In cases where
an offense is illegal on both a state and federal level, it can be tried
on both of these levels. This is usually the case for things like fraud,
theft, drug crimes, and some violent offenses as well. The federal government
has the first priority to try the case if they wish, but most of the time
they’ll choose to defer the case to the state the crime took place
in. The federal government only has so many resources, so they usually
lean pretty heavily on state courts for these types of cases.

However, in some cases, particularly for serious charges, the federal government
may choose to exercise its jurisdiction and try the case first. In these
instances, your case will be tried in federal criminal court in the jurisdiction
where the offense allegedly took place.

Dual Sovereignty

You may remember from your social studies class that U.S. law forbids “double
jeopardy,” or being prosecuted twice for the same offense. However,
what many people don’t realize is this does not apply to courts
on different levels. You can actually be tried for the same offense twice
as long as the two prosecutions are not in a court under the same jurisdiction.

One famous example of this is when NFL quarterback Michael Vick was found
guilty of running an illegal dogfighting ring. Vick was initially prosecuted
in federal court and sentenced to 23 months in prison. He was then prosecuted
and convicted again by the state of Virginia. Prosecutors for the state
of Virginia successfully argued that two trials in different jurisdictions
did not qualify as “double jeopardy.”

If you find yourself facing a criminal offense on either the federal or
state level,
call the Law Offices of William D. Thompson and speak with a Scranton criminal defense attorney!