State vs. Federal Crimes: Differences

In the United States, we have two different types of courts – state courts and federal courts. In effect, we have two types of crimes, which are state and federal crimes, but what is the difference?

Federal crimes are established by Congress and are prosecuted in federal court, whereas state crimes are established by state legislatures and prosecuted in state court.

The following types of criminal cases are heard in federal court:

  • Cases where the United States is a party,
  • Crimes that cross state lines, for example, a kidnapper takes their victim from New York to Pennsylvania,
  • Cases that involve violations of federal law, and
  • Cases involving violations of the U.S. Constitution.

The majority of criminal cases are prosecuted in the state courts because they have broad jurisdiction. Thus, most criminal charges involving citizens, such as DUIs, assaults, domestic violence, drug charges, robberies, theft crimes, and manslaughter and murder are tried in the state courts.

Some types of illegal conduct are criminalized under both state and federal law. For example, federal law criminalizes identity theft, and the state has its own laws. In that case, the prosecutors can decide whether to pursue a case in state or federal court.

State-level crimes are investigated by local police officers, county sheriffs, and state agents, whereas federal crimes are investigated by federal officers, such as FBI and DEA agents, in collaboration with local authorities. As a general rule, federal crimes involve harsher sentences for similar, state-level crimes.

People who are convicted in state court go to state prison, and defendants convicted in federal court go to federal prison. Despite the fact that state sentences are often less severe, state prisons are notorious for being far more dangerous than federal prisons because they house violent criminals, such as gang members, murderers and rapists.

Whether you’re facing state or federal charges, Crisp and Associates, LLC can defend you. Contact our Harrisburg criminal defense firm today for a free consultation!