Determining the difference between state crime and federal crime can be important in criminal cases since the outcome of your case and the proper procedure for handling it are dictated by this determination. You can generally tell what type of crime you have been charged with by looking at the court in which you are to appear.
Each state has its own criminal code which governs the conduct of its citizens. So, something can be a crime in one state, but not in another. Likewise, an action can be criminal under state law, yet not be characterized as a crime under federal law. You must consult the criminal statutes of your state to be advised of specific crimes and potential consequences within your state.
Local law enforcement generally handle state crime investigation and prosecution. Crimes that occur locally and do not involve federal property are often handled by a state criminal court.
Federal law overrides state law if there is a conflict between the two. The United States Legislature enacts laws that determine what falls under federal law. If a crime involves federal land or Indian reservations, then it may be governed by federal law. Many times, white collar crimes that deal with financial documents, securities or money are dealt with under federal regulations. It is possible for a crime to be covered under both federal and state law.
The federal Bureau of Investigations is the United States agency which handles federal criminal cases. There is also a federal prosecutor, meaning a federal crime will be handled in a different court than a state crime.
Some crimes that are commonly dealt with under federal law as opposed to state law include:
- Mail fraud (and other types of fraud);
- Kidnapping (especially if the victim was carried across state lines);
- Any crime involving interstate travel, including heists and transport of stolen property or illegal contraband;
- Tax evasion;
- Immigration offenses; and
- Counterfeiting of money.
Getting Legal Help
If you have been charged with a state or federal crime, a criminal defense attorney in your state can help you handle the charges. It is important to get an attorney who is knowledgeable in the kind of charges you face. For example, if you are charged with a federal crime, you need to find an attorney who has experience handling federal charges in federal court. The procedure and law for state and federal court are different.