Published On: Sun, Jan 31st, 2021

Federal vs. State: The Differences between the Charges and Crimes

When hearing the word crime, the average human mind may start to think about horrible things like murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault. But it can be as simple as downloading pirated songs.

Regardless, defending your innocence against a crime of any kind is anything but simple in most cases. However, the situations are much different in state and federal courts. Let’s get into the details.

Photo By Bill Koplitz/FEMA

State and Federal Jurisdiction

Most of the crimes you can think of probably come under state laws and are tried in state courts. The state legislators use their general police power to conduct, and the state has the ability to decide the case. 

When it comes to federal, there are fewer classes of crimes compared to the state. The reason is that state lawmakers can pass any constitutional law. But the federal lawmakers have to keep the national interest in mind when they think about passing laws. Generally, the federal government will have jurisdiction over the following types of crimes:

  • Any crime where the defendant crosses state lines.

This is where the person who allegedly committed a crime went from, for example, Florida to Georgia. 

  • Any crime where the criminal actions of a person cross state lines. 

This is where the alleged criminals and their victims are in separate states.

  • Any custom or immigration violation. 

This can include anything from importing child pornography to international human trafficking. You can find more information about this on the Dept. of Homeland Security’s website

  • Any crime that occurs on federal property or involves a federal officer.

This includes crimes that take place in, for example, a national forest, USPS, or an Indian reservation. It can also include crimes that happened against federal agents and officers, like an FBI agent or a USPIS employee.

If your charges consist of a federal crime, you will need to have an excellent criminal defense attorney with federal court experience. The reason is the differences between the crimes and how they are handled.

Differences between the Procedures

There are numerous differences in procedure between states and federal charges. While most of the time state and federal cases are separate, sometimes a criminal is accountable to the state as well as the federal government. In those situations, the prosecutor will be the deciding party and choose whether to prosecute in federal or state court.

The main differences include:

  • Concerning courts, the state has district courts while the government has federal courts.



  • Concerning the prosecutors, the state has a Prosecuting Attorney from the District Attorney’s office. On the other hand, the federal court prosecutors are U.S. Attorneys from the U.S. Attorney General’s office. 


  • Concerning the judges, the judges in state courts are appointed by the governor and are subject to an election. On the other hand, the federal courts’ judges are appointed by the President of the United States are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They generally stay for life.

Author: Sheikh Hazaifa

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