Kurtz & Blum, PLLC - Criminal Justice Attorney

what is considered a federal crime?

What Makes a Crime a Federal Offense?

In some situations, there is federal jurisdiction that gives federal prosecutors the right to prosecute the case. In other situations, the offense may be considered both a state and federal crime. Federal prosecutors may choose when they want to step in, take a case over from the state, and prosecute it.

In some cases, state and federal prosecutors can simultaneously prosecute the case without double jeopardy arising because the offense is considered a different crime in different jurisdictions.
State Crime
vs.
Federal Crime
Jurisdiction

Most crimes fall under state law and jurisdiction.
However, federal jurisdiction applies when the crime:

Occurs on federal land
Involves federal officers
Involves criminal conduct or a defendant who crosses state lines
Involves immigration or customs violations
Involves fraud, deception, or misrepresentation to the federal government or a federal agency
Involves interstate commerce
Is classified as a federal crime, such as acts of terrorism or mail fraud
Occurs on federal land
Involves federal officers
Involves criminal conduct or a defendant who crosses state lines
Involves interstate commerce
Is classified as a federal crime, such as acts of terrorism or mail fraud
Involves immigration or customs violations
Involves fraud, deception, or misrepresentation to the federal government or a federal agency
Government Agencies
The government agencies that investigate and prosecute state and federal crimes are often different.
State crimes may involve:
Police departments
Sheriffs’ offices
District attorneys
State police agencies
In contrast, federal crimes may involve:
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
Department of Justice (DOJ)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S. Attorneys
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
A consequence of federal crime prosecution is that there are usually much more expansive resources available in these cases. Federal crimes are prosecuted under federal law, irrespective of where the crime was committed.
Procedural Differences
There are also differences in the procedures surrounding the prosecution of federal and state crimes, including:
  • The Rules of Federal Criminal Procedure apply to federal cases while state rules of criminal procedure apply to state cases.
  • Federal judges are appointed for life by the president while state judges in North Carolina are elected for a short term.
  • Federal judges tend to handle far fewer cases so cases may be resolved faster.
  • Federal cases typically begin with a grand jury indictment while a state case usually begins after state charges are filed against the defendant.
Punishment
Another significant difference between state and federal courts is the potential punishment you can face. Federal sentencing guidelines apply to federal crimes. Federal penalties are usually much longer than state penalties for similar offenses, especially drug crimes. If convicted, you will go to federal prison instead of state prison.
In North Carolina, crimes are divided into three categories:
Infractions
Misdemeanors
Felonies
These are established by state law and are subject to the penalties described in these laws.