Federal vs. State Crimes: Know the Difference

The United States operates under a dual legal system where federal and state governments can enforce laws and prosecute offenders. This bifurcated system allows each level of government to operate within its own jurisdiction, yet often leads to complexities that are not immediately clear to individuals.

The United States Congress enacts federal laws that apply to the entire country, covering areas mandated under the U.S. Constitution, such as interstate commerce, federal taxes, and issues that transcend state boundaries. On the other hand, state laws are established by individual state legislatures and typically focus on matters within a state’s borders, such as property, family, and criminal laws that do not involve federal statutes.

Understanding the differences between federal and state crimes is crucial for anyone involved in legal proceedings. Federal crimes generally concern national and international affairs or cases where jurisdiction overlaps several states. These are investigated by agencies such as the FBI, DEA, or Homeland Security and are tried in federal courts. State crimes, however, are investigated by local law enforcement and address violations of state laws, with cases heard in state courts. The distinction affects the handling and processing of cases, the severity of sentences, and the resources dedicated to prosecution.

Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, based in Los Angeles, represents individuals accused of state and/or federal crimes. Contact us at (800) 462-7160.

Understanding Federal Crimes

Federal crimes are violations of laws passed by the United States Congress. These offenses generally involve matters that extend beyond the geographic boundaries of any single state, affecting national and international interests. What makes a crime federal typically relates to its scope and the nature of the jurisdiction as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. For instance, crimes that cross state lines or occur on federal property or offenses against federal officers all fall under this category.

Some common examples of federal crimes include:

  • Tax evasion. Individuals or corporations illegally avoid paying federal taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service
  • Federal drug offenses.The manufacture, importation, possession, and distribution of controlled substances
  • Immigration violations. Offenses such as illegal entry into the United States, employing undocumented immigrants, and fraudulently obtaining a visa or green card.

The jurisdiction of federal crimes is managed by various federal agencies, each with its specific role and area of expertise. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is perhaps the most well-known, handling duties from counterterrorism and cybercrime to organized crime and public corruption. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) specifically targets offenses related to drugs, focusing on dismantling drug trafficking organizations and curbing illegal drug use and distribution. Other significant agencies include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which deals with violations related to illegal arms and explosive devices, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration.

Understanding State Crimes

State crimes are offenses that violate the laws set by individual state legislatures. Unlike federal crimes, which involve national interests and federal statutes, state crimes are generally confined to the boundaries of a single state and primarily concern the local populace.

The critical difference between state and federal crimes lies in the scope and jurisdiction of the law violated. State crimes are prosecuted in state courts, and the enforcement is usually managed by local or state police rather than federal agencies.

Common examples of state crimes include:

  • Robbery. The taking property from another person through force or threat of force
  • Assault.The unlawful attempt to cause bodily harm to another individual
  • DUI. The operation of a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs

The jurisdiction of state crimes is managed by local law enforcement agencies such as city police departments, county sheriff's offices, or state police. These agencies are responsible for upholding state laws, conducting criminal investigations within their respective jurisdictions, and maintaining public order.

The Crucial Role of Legal Representation

Navigating the complexities of the legal system, whether facing federal or state charges, demands skilled legal representation. The distinctions between federal and state legal systems affect procedural aspects and influence the strategic approach necessary for effective defense. In both scenarios, the stakes are high, and the outcomes can significantly impact an individual's life. Thus, hiring a defense lawyer familiar with the specific jurisdiction and court system where the case will be heard is essential. Their insights allow them to develop a robust strategy tailored to the nuances and procedural differences of the court.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles team has the depth of knowledge and experience to handle the nuances of each legal system. Schedule a consultation by calling (800) 462-7160 or reaching out online.