What are the differences between state and federal crimes?

What are the differences between state and federal crimes?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, one of the first things you need to consider when searching for legal representation is whether you’ve been accused of a state-level crime or a federal level crime.

Depending on the charge, both can carry grave implications for you, but how you mount a defense strategy may be quite different depending on which court system you will be tried in. Some attorneys have experience at both levels, but generally, it is best to find one that has the bulk of their expertise in the system where you will be tried.

Most types of crimes are clear cut when it comes to which system will handle the case. If a crime is committed in a single state, it will be considered a state-level crime, unless federal laws override it. In many instances it could go either way, a “Supremacy Clause” kicks in, giving federal law precedence over state law.

Some examples of state-level crimes can be burglary, assault, murder, robbery, among many others. Crimes that take place in multiple states or that are designated as federal crimes include acts such as tax fraud and IRS violations, mail fraud, drug trafficking, counterfeiting or immigration-related offenses.

One of the most important aspects of being charged with a state-level crime versus a federal level crime is how penalties are determined if you are convicted. Judges have a certain degree of discretion and can take many factors into consideration when determining the length of a prison sentence or the amount of a fine. Their sentencing guidelines are sometimes defined by state legislation that gives ranges of penalties the courts should follow. Federal courts rely upon Federal Sentencing Guidelines which are applied uniformly throughout the United States when calculating sentences and fines. Knowing the approximate length of what a defendant is facing can influence how a case proceeds and whether or not it is in the person’s best interests to strike a deal instead of going to trial.

Decker & Jones serves clients in Denver, Golden and communities throughout Jefferson County, Colorado.