When is a Crime Considered a “Federal” Crime?
What is the difference between “federal” crimes and “state” crimes? If you will continue reading, that will be explained, but if you are charged with either type of crime in Southern California, the first thing you must do is contact an Orange County criminal defense attorney immediately.
Most crimes are state-level crimes, violations of state laws handled by state-level criminal justice systems. Federal crimes are crimes that involve a federal interest – a crime on federal or federally-protected land, for example, or a crime that involves crossing one or more state lines.
What are your legal rights if you are charged with either a state crime or a federal crime? What steps will you need to take? What will an Orange County criminal defense lawyer do on your behalf? Keep reading this short discussion of state and federal law for the answers you may need.
Which Crimes Are State Crimes?
Every court in the United States is either a federal, state, or local court. Federal courts in this nation have jurisdiction over constitutional matters and federal laws passed by Congress. State and local courts have jurisdiction over state laws and local laws and ordinances.
State crimes are typically the types of crimes that are committed directly against persons and property and do not involve the federal government in any way. Generally speaking, state crimes include (but are not limited to) criminal offenses such as:
- traffic violations
- drug crimes (except for drug trafficking across state lines)
- burglary, theft, and robbery
- sexual assault, rape, and solicitation
- assault, battery, manslaughter, and murder
- arson and vandalism
- indecent exposure, drunk and disorderly, and disturbing the peace
Which Crimes Are Federal Crimes?
Generally speaking, federal crimes include (but are not limited to) crimes committed on federal lands (military bases or national parks, for example) or on federally-protected properties (banks and federal courthouses, for example). Federal courts also have jurisdiction over:
- bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and antitrust cases
- counterfeiting, federal tax evasion, tax fraud, and mail fraud cases
- civil rights violations
- immigration violations
- kidnapping, child pornography, and most cyber crimes
- almost any crimes that involve persons in more than one state or crossing a state line
In Southern California, if you are charged with a crime at either the state or federal level, contact an Orange County criminal defense attorney – at once – for the legal help you will need.
Could You Be Charged Twice for the Same Crime?
The answer to that question is “yes and no.” The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution shields you from “double jeopardy,” but if you are tried and found not guilty of a crime in a state court, you could conceivably still be prosecuted and convicted of the same crime in federal court.
The double jeopardy clause of the Constitution only forbids more than one prosecution by the same government. Federal and state governments are distinct, so each may prosecute for the same crime, or a federal prosecutor may bring a different charge for the same criminal incident.
A famous example that occurred in California involved Rodney King, a victim of police violence in 1991. Four Los Angeles police officers were tried in a California state court for “use of excessive force.” Three were acquitted, and jurors failed to reach a verdict for the fourth officer.
The U.S. Justice Department subsequently prosecuted the four police officers again in federal court, this time for violating Mr. King’s civil rights, and two of the four officers were convicted.
Who Enforces State and Federal Laws?
Local and state law enforcement is predominantly handled in the State of California by municipal police departments, county sheriff’s offices, and state law enforcement authorities such as the California Highway Patrol and the California Bureau of Investigation.
Federal law enforcement is handled by a number of federal agencies, and the particular federal law enforcement agency that investigates a crime will depend on the nature of that crime. The federal law enforcement agencies include:
- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
- the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- the U.S. Secret Service
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
How Do Federal and State Courts Differ?
The federal courts include federal district courts (which are trial courts) and federal circuit courts (which hear appeals of district court decisions). The federal court system is comprised of 94 federal district courts, 13 federal circuit courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
The California state court system includes 58 Superior Courts. These are trial courts, with one in each county. The state judicial system also includes six California Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.
What Are Your Rights if You Are Charged With a Federal Crime?
Your rights in a federal court are the same as your rights in a state court. You have the right to remain silent – that is, the right to avoid self-incrimination – and you have the right to be advised and represented by a federal criminal defense attorney.
If you are being investigated by a federal law enforcement agency, you must reach out as quickly as possible to a federal criminal defense lawyer who will negotiate with the U.S. Attorney and attempt to resolve your case before you are indicted and taken into federal custody.
If you are indicted on a federal criminal charge, it is a serious matter. It is imperative for you to be advised and represented – as quickly as possible – by an Orange County criminal defense lawyer who has considerable experience representing clients who face federal criminal charges.
What Else Should You Know About Federal Crimes and Courts?
U.S. Attorneys are aggressive prosecutors who often seek the maximum penalty for anyone convicted of a federal offense. If you face a federal criminal prosecution, you must be defended by an attorney who will fight just as aggressively to protect your rights and your freedom.
If your case goes to trial, the right defense attorney will cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence, explain to the jurors what actually happened, and ask the jurors to return a not guilty verdict in your case.
However – and this cannot be stressed strongly enough – if you are indicted for a federal offense, or if you learn that you are under investigation by federal law enforcement authorities, you must contact the right criminal defense attorney immediately.