December 27, 2022

What’s the Difference Between State and Federal Crimes?

Each state has its own criminal laws, courts, and punishments, which differ from those of the federal government. 

The difference between state and federal crimes matters when you’re facing state or federal criminal charges. The legal system abides by the state laws set forth by the state legislature, while federal law is governed by Congress. Often, state and federal courts have dual jurisdiction for a crime. The difference is in the details and the punishment. 

The legal system is complex and facing charges of any kind can leave you anxious and confused. Federal crimes typically carry more stringent penalties and severe consequences compared to state convictions. When navigating this type of situation, talk to a criminal defense attorney for guidance on your charges and the difference between state and federal cases. 

What are State Crimes?

A state crime occurs when you are accused of violating state law. State laws may differ from state to state and are enacted by state lawmakers. Each state has its unique criminal or penal code which is routinely updated and revised. The Illinois Compiled Statutes is an extensive list of public law. 

Examples of state crimes include:

Under Illinois law, defendants are entitled to having their rights upheld under both federal and state constitutions. This can mean that the rights granted in a state case include those state-specific recognitions that the federal law may not honor. 

What are Federal Crimes?

Federal laws are uniform and consistent throughout the United States and are written by congress. The federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over crimes that meet the definition of federal criminal charges. The federal process is far more stringent and differs from that of state procedures. 

Examples of federal crimes include: 

  • Identity theft and credit card fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Hijacking
  • Bank robbery
  • White collar crimes
  • Drug trafficking
  • Organized crime
  • Crimes that take place on federal property or in which state lines are crossed

In federal criminal cases, you may have fewer protective rights allowed to you than in a state case. The Federal Court only recognizes those which have been granted from the United States Constitution regardless of your state of residence or in which state the crime was committed. 

There are instances in which the charges may overlap and cases may be tried as both state and federal crimes. Talk to your lawyer about the details of your charges if you believe you may be facing overlapping jurisdiction issues. 

Differences in Prosecution

State criminal charges typically begin with either having a complaint filed or with the police witnessing the infraction. State crimes are typically prosecuted by state district attorneys. The investigation into these accusations is carried out by both state and local law enforcement and prosecuted in a state court if it’s determined there is efficient evidence to move forward. 

If the state decides there is enough evidence for an arrest, charges will be brought and you may be arrested, booked, and released before your trial. In the pre-trial, the accused will appear in court for their arraignment where formal charges are brought, followed by preparing for the final court date.

The scope of what is processed in the state court differs from that of its federal counterpart. 

Federal criminal cases are determined by federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Federal agents investigate and obtain evidence using warrants, if needed, through the grand jury, and an indictment is issued. After appearing in front of the judge in federal court, federal criminal charges will be filed, followed by arraignment and a possible plea bargain. You may not be released.  

If a plea bargain can’t be made, the case will go to trial. Federal cases are handled by federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney General’s Office of the Assistant Attorney General by lawyers with extensive experience. Talking to lawyers with experience handling federal cases is key.

Differences in Sentencing

With both state and federal crimes, the penalties vary based on the circumstances of each criminal case. In general, federal punishments are longer than state sentences for a similar crime. The federal courts follow the federal sentencing guidelines and if convicted the sentence will be carried out in federal prison. 

State sentences are served in the state correctional facility. The specifics of your sentence will depend on your state, whether there are aggravating factors, and other details your lawyer can review with you. 

Defend Your Case and Your Future with a Lawyer 

Whether you are up against accusations at the state or federal level, strong legal counsel is your best chance for an optimal outcome. At Chicago Trusted Attorneys® we understand both Illinois and federal law and will be in your corner from start to finish. 

Ready to get the guidance you need during this difficult time? Connect with us today by calling 312-931-5411 or completing the online form below.