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The Difference Between Federal Offenses and State Crimes

The majority of defendants who have been accused of a crime are charged in state court. It is possible, however, for a person to be charged with a federal crime, in which case, he or she will be tried in federal court. There are a number of different procedural rules that apply in federal courts that do not apply in state court and vice versa. Failing to have a thorough understanding of these differences can have devastating repercussions for defendants, so if you were recently charged with a crime in Texas, it is important to speak with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. 

Federal vs. State Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of state courts is broad, as they oversee the prosecution of crimes ranging from traffic violations to serious felonies. For this reason, most crimes that come to mind, such as robbery, burglary, sexual offenses, and assault are prosecuted in state court. It is also possible, however, to be accused of committing a crime in federal court if:

    • The crime was committed on federal land or involved federal officers;
    • A defendant crossed state lines while committing the crime;
    • The offense involved criminal conduct that crossed state lines, such as mail fraud; 
    • The offense involves immigration or customs violations; or
    • The crime involved a threat to national security. 

While it is true that some offenses are criminal acts only under federal law, most fall under both state and federal law and so can be prosecuted in either state or federal court. The majority of criminal cases, however, are tried only in state court, even when an offense also qualifies as a federal crime, although in some cases, it is possible for a person to be tried in both state and federal court for the same offense. 

Differences in State and Federal Procedure

There are a variety of differences in state and federal criminal prosecutions. For instance, federal crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and investigated by federal officers, while state crimes are investigated by state agents, local police officers, or county sheriffs and are prosecuted by state district attorneys. 

gavel and book in court room

State crimes and federal offenses are also penalized differently. For instance, when it comes to sentencing, state courts are guided by specific state laws, although in some cases, juries are permitted to establish punishments for felony cases. If, however, a defendant is found guilty in federal court, the judge will be required to use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in making his or her decision. Generally, the penalties for committing a federal crime tend to be far more severe than their state counterparts. 

Call Today to Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Houston, Galveston or League City

If you are facing criminal charges in either state or federal court, you should be represented by a skilled attorney who can help protect your legal interests. To speak with a dedicated criminal defense lawyer about defending yourself against your own charges, please call The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 today.