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State vs. Federal Courts

In the United States, we have the state courts and the federal courts. Similarly, we have state-level crimes and federal crimes. State courts prosecute state-level crimes and federal courts prosecute federal criminal cases.

State laws are enacted by state legislators, whereas federal laws are established by Congress. Essentially, if you commit a state crime, you will be prosecuted in state court and if you commit a federal crime, you will be prosecuted in federal court.

By far the majority of crimes are under the jurisdiction of the state courts. DUI, assaults, most drug crimes, theft-related crimes, rapes, robberies and murders – they’re all prosecuted in the state court system. However, sometimes a crime is criminalized under both state and federal law.

When a person commits a crime that can be prosecuted in either court, the state and federal prosecutors will decide whether the case will be heard in state court or federal court. However, a state only case cannot be brought in federal court.

Generally, the federal government will have jurisdiction over a case involving: federal land or federal officers, a crime that crossed state lines (e.g. kidnapping), an immigration and customs violation, such as human trafficking.

Examples of federal crimes, include but are not limited to:

  • Embezzlement
  • Identity theft
  • Credit card theft
  • Bankruptcy fraud
  • Drug trafficking
  • Securities fraud
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Child pornography
  • Money laundering

Are the punishments the same?

The penalties for state and federal crimes vary, however, as a general rule, the penalties for a federal crime are harsher than the state penalties for a similar crime. This especially applies to federal drug crimes, which are known for carrying harsher mandatory minimum sentences.

Those who are convicted of state crimes go to state prison and those convicted of federal crimes are sent to federal prison. Despite the fact that federal prisons have higher security than state prisons, they are not considered to be nearly as dangerous as state prisons.

Why is this? It’s because the state prisons have less security and they house the dangerous, violent criminals, such as those convicted of rape and murder. There are also a lot of gangs in the state prison system vs. the federal prison system.

In contrast, federal prisons tend to house the non-violent offenders, many of whom are educated individuals (white collar professionals) who have committed financially-motivated crimes, otherwise known as “white collar crimes.” These convicted individuals are understandably, less of a threat.

If you are facing state or federal charges in the Phoenix Area, contact the Law Offices of Joshua S. Davison, PLC. Attorney Davidson is a former prosecutor who is licensed to practice in the state and federal courts. Call 24/7 for a free consultation!

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