What Makes Something A Federal Crime?

Most of the cases that a Nebraska criminal lawyer will have to handle are state prosecutions for violations of state law. Most of these are argued in local or state courts. However, there are federal laws against criminal behaviors that are tied to cases as well, including interstate drug trafficking, federal tax fraud, or crimes committed on federal properties. Some of these criminal acts are crimes only under federal law. Still, many of these crimes are actually laws under both the state and the federal regulations and therefore can be prosecuted in either federal or state courts. Often, the default is to just go to state courts, but that isn’t always the case.

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    Federal Jurisdictions

    Most crimes that may come to mind, including drug trafficking, murder, possession, opiate possession, theft, arson, rape, and burglary are all violations of state laws. State legislators use their powers to regulate these activities and the state can decide the outcome of the case.

    There are fewer federal crimes because state lawmakers can pass laws much more quickly and efficiently than federal lawmakers. There is also a constitutional right that federal lawmakers can only pass laws where there is some national or federal interest at stake. For example, the federal government legislates counterfeiting because it is the job of the federal government to print money. 

    Federal crimes, therefore, can include:

    • Any crimes that take place on federal land (for example, robbery in a national forest);
    • Any crimes that involved federal officers;
    • A crime where state lines were crossed;

    It can be very difficult to determine whether these lines were crossed in some instances, so it is important to talk to a lawyer about what charges you are facing.

    Differences in State and Federal Crime Timelines

    The timelines of facing a state or federal criminal charge are quite different. Federal judges are appointed by the President and then serve for life. On the other hand, state court judges who are appointed by the governor do need to be re-elected. Federal crimes are then prosecuted by an Assistant US Attorney and investigated by federal officers. State crimes, on the other hand, are investigated by local police forces, state agents, and county sheriffs. They are then prosecuted by the state district attorneys or city attorneys.

    In general, the timeline for federal crimes is longer because they are typically more serious crimes with more players involved. At the same time, budget and time constraints can lengthen or damped state crimes.

    Prosecutions For Both State and Federal Crimes

    Although it isn’t very common, a person can be prosecuted at both the state and federal levels for the same crime if there are violations of both. Some people will argue that this is double jeopardy, but that isn’t the case. The Constitution prohibits someone from being tried twice for the same crime, but it does have a separate sovereign exception. This means that since both parts of the government are separate, they do not qualify for double jeopardy.

    Still, as trying a case at both levels can be quite expensive and harrowing for anyone involved, it isn’t common.

    Punishments for Federal Crimes

    The punishments for federal crimes vary depending on the case. There are guidelines for federal sentencing and most judges will follow those guidelines as they sentence someone. In general, federal penalties are longer and harsher than state penalties, even for similar crimes. In particular, federal crimes dealing with drugs will carry much harsher sentences and punishments. People convicted of federal crimes and sentenced to prison will go to federal prison, rather than state prison.

    Need Help?

    It is important not to fight federal crimes alone - if you want to give yourself the best chance to not face heightened sentences and punishments, you need someone with experience fighting on your side.

    If you or someone that you love is facing the possibility of a federal crime in Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska lawyer immediately. He will help you to sort out the facts of your case and offer assistance. For help as soon as possible, contact a Nebraska lawyer at (402) 884-1031.