The overwhelming majority of criminal prosecutions take place in a state court. However, if you’re charged with a crime with a federal angle, you may face trial in a federal court, and that’s a very serious matter.
Although state and federal law have much in common, there are some crucial distinctions between how the two courts work, the types of crime prosecuted, and the punishments handed down. For one, the consequences of a federal conviction are generally much more severe.
To give you more details regarding this special area of the law, we’ll cover what constitutes a federal crime, the most common federal felonies, the main differences from state law, and the importance of strong legal representation.
For a crime to be defined as a felony, it has to have a federal interest. So if the crime, or criminal, crosses state boundaries, or has a national or international dimension, it’ll likely be heard in a federal court. The same is true if the felony impacts a federal employee, department, or agency, or if it takes place on federal land. Other felonies tried in federal courts include crimes in areas like immigration, maritime matters, and smuggling.
Although it rarely happens, if a federal prosecution is unsuccessful, you could still face trial at the state level. Because federal and state law falls under separate jurisdictions, the rule of double jeopardy, for example - where you can’t be tried twice for the same crime - doesn’t apply.
One reason federal courts exist is to provide a legal mechanism for crimes perpetrated across multiple states. A Californian car thief who steals vehicles from Oregon, Washington, and Nevada, would probably be prosecuted at the federal level.
That said, in some instances, an interstate crime may still be tried in a state court. Between them, federal and state prosecutors will make that call. Even where the consequences of the crime are only felt in one state, the case will likely work its way through the federal system if there’s a federal interest.
The word “crime” is a catch-all term covering any offense, from stealing a chocolate bar to robbing a bank, from getting a speeding ticket to murder. The very lowest level offenses are referred to as infractions. To differentiate between major and minor crimes the law also classifies less serious offenses as misdemeanors and more serious ones as felonies. Within both categories, there’s a sliding scale of offenses.
Being charged with a felony is a highly severe matter because you’re far likelier to face time in prison if you’re found guilty. US citizens accused of a felony may opt for a trial by jury instead of a bench trial by judge.
Immigration and drug-related crimes account for the majority of federal prosecutions, but there are many other felonies covered by federal law:
Fraud happens at both an individual and corporate level and covers many crimes: tax evasion, stolen credit cards, Ponzi schemes, wire fraud, and more. Fraud always counts as a felony, but the severity of the punishment depends on how much money was stolen and the victim.
Money laundering is usually connected with other forms of crime - like drug trafficking, for example - so it’s often part of a broader prosecution. Embezzlement - stealing after being given trusted access to assets - counts as a felony when the value stolen is more than $1,000.
Identity theft, where someone steals and uses your personal data, is one of the most miserable crimes for anyone to endure. As well as overlapping with other areas like credit card and wire fraud, identity theft is often associated with government benefit scams.
Bribery becomes a federal offense when a government department or employee is affected; federal law doesn’t apply to commercial or private bribery. Bribery of a public official usually counts as a felony against both the giver and the recipient.
Violent crimes involve one person causing harm to another and range from a simple fight right through to felonies like aggravated assault, rape, and murder. Interestingly, a violent crime doesn’t necessarily have to feature physical violence: just the threat of using force can be enough.
For domestic violence to be considered a felony, it has to reach a certain level. Simple battery - physical aggression on another person - may be seen as a misdemeanor. It’s only the more serious charge of aggravated battery - where you cause grave harm or use a lethal weapon - that counts as a felony. Sexual abuse, and abuse of a minor, also count as felonies.
It’s vital to keep a sense of perspective when it comes to federal felonies. The numbers are tiny compared to prosecutions at the state level, and most defendants plead guilty before the case reaches court. But that doesn’t negate the need for top-class legal representation.
Federal courts are a tough place to be, and the legal prosecutors are some of the best in the business. That means you need the very best defense counsel you can afford to protect your rights, represent you effectively in court, and, where applicable, negotiate with the prosecution for a plea agreement.
The consequences of being found guilty of a federal felony are massive. That’s why you need the very best legal representation from an attorney with experience in federal law. Call now for a free case assessment from the specialist team at Marble for valuable advice on all your options.