Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney
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State vs. Federal Crimes: How are They Different?

In the United States we have state laws and federal laws, and we have state courts and federal courts respectively. When people commit crimes, they may be violating a state law or they may be violating a federal law, or they may be in violating of state and federal law.

If you’re like a lot of people, you may not understand the differences between state and federal crimes, let alone their penalties. To shed some light on the subject, we’re going to dig a little deeper into state and federal crimes, as well as state and federal prisons, which are anything but the same!

Who establishes the laws?

Federal laws are established by Congress, whereas state laws are established by state legislators. Generally, state-level crimes are heard in state courts, whereas federal crimes are heard in federal courts.

By far, the vast majority of criminal cases are heard in the state courts; the state courts have wide jurisdiction over a number of crimes, such as assault, sexually-motivated crimes, burglary, robbery, and most drug and theft-related crimes.

However, state courts do not hear crimes involving violations of federal law, many of which involve federal drug trafficking charges, kidnapping, Internet crimes, and white collar crimes. When a crime is committed on federal property, or when a criminal act crossed state lines, the feds will get involved and the offender will likely face federal prosecution.

Often, a person will commit a crime that violates both state and federal laws. What happens in this situation? In this case, the state and federal prosecutors will decide whether to press charges in state or federal court.

Are federal offenses more serious?

As a general rule, the sentencing and penalties for a federal crime are much steeper than the sentencing and penalties for a similar crime under state law. If the accused is found guilty under state charges, he or she will be sent to state prison, and if they are convicted under federal charges, the defendant will go to federal prison.

Ask anyone who’s been to state and federal prison and they will tell you that federal prison is “much nicer” than state prison. In fact, that’s an understatement.

While federal prison is higher security than state prison, most of the convicts locked up in federal prison are doing time for financially-motivated crimes – for white collar crimes. Think of bankers and stockbrokers and you get the picture.

In contrast, state prison has lower security and it houses all of the violent criminals who have been convicted of robbery, rape, and murder. Additionally, the state prisons are plagued with rival gangs, so it is not the safest place to be.

Unfortunately, whether a defendant is convicted of a state or a federal crime, their options are not very favorable: enjoy a better stay at federal prison for a much longer time, or have a shorter stay at a state prison where you have to be concerned about your safety around the clock.

Are you facing state or federal criminal charges in Orange County? Your best solution is to stay out of jail or prison in the first place! Contact our office for a free case evaluation today.