Understanding the distinctions between state and federal crimes prepares you to face serious charges. When you or a loved one experiences arrest and prosecution, the path will vary depending on the type of crime, where it occurred and other factors.
Review how federal and state offenses vary from one another to learn more about what to expect.
State crimes violate state laws and thus fall under the jurisdiction of individual states. Federal crimes break laws established by the federal government. These offenses fall within the jurisdiction of the national court system.
Some offenses violate both state and federal laws, leading to dual jurisdiction. In this situation, both state and federal agencies can pursue charges or collaborate on the case.
Nature of offenses
State crimes often involve robbery, assault or traffic violations that directly impact the residents. Federal crimes tend to focus on broader issues such as immigration violations, tax evasion or interstate drug trafficking, which transcend state borders. Drug trafficking is the most common type of federal charge, representing 48% of more than 135,000 incarcerated inmates in 2021.
Severity of punishment
State crimes are generally prosecuted under state laws and sentencing guidelines. Consequences tend to be less severe for convictions. Conversely, federal convictions typically result in lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines.
State and local law enforcement agencies such as police departments and sheriff’s offices investigate state crimes. Federal crimes fall under the jurisdiction of federal agencies. Examples include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.
You must appear in state court for state-level charges, while federal courts hear federal cases. Each venue has its own rules of evidence, procedural laws and systems. The same legal rights apply to defendants in both federal and state courts. Review these factors carefully depending on the appropriate jurisdiction.