Federal vs State Crimes: What's The Difference?

Federal vs State Crimes: What’s The Difference?

by Jul 3, 2018

If you’ve been accused of a crime, it’s very important to understand if you’re being accused of either a state crime, or a federal crime. The difference between federal vs state crimes often involves the agencies in charge of investigating and prosecuting your case, and possibly where your trial will take place if you end up in court.

To help you better understand the difference of federal vs state crimes, here are some examples, along with additional information about each one.

Examples Of Federal Crimes

Federal crimes typically involve federal government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), Border Patrol, Secret Service, or even possibly the Postal Service.

Federal crimes include things like:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Crimes related to human trafficking
  • Weapons charges
  • Organized crime
  • White-collar crime
  • Computer-related fraud and crime

Generally speaking, federal crimes are those in which the act occurred in multiple states and/or involved a federal agency.

Examples Of State Crimes

The majority of crimes that are committed can be categorized by state law as criminal acts. Therefore, they are considered as state crimes. They’re investigated by local police officers, state agents, or county sheriffs. State crimes include things such as:

  • Assault & battery
  • Kidnapping
  • Stalking
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Homicide

Being accused of a state crime is far more likely than being charged with a federal crime in most cases, but it’s important to speak with your attorney about this point as soon as possible.

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Federal Vs State Crimes Prosecution

It’s important to know that state court and federal court are two entirely different systems with different courthouses and judges.

Federal judges preside over federal criminal cases, while elected state court judges preside over state criminal cases. Assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecute federal cases, while state district attorneys and county attorneys prosecute state crimes.

Federal Vs State Crimes Sentencing

Another key difference between federal vs state crimes is the required sentence. Federal judges must consider federal sentencing guidelines when handing down a sentence. Mandatory minimum sentencing means that federal sentences tend to be longer than state sentences.

Even if their crimes are similar, someone being sentenced for a federal crime will typically face a harsher penalty than someone who has been convicted of a state crime.

The facilities where sentences are carried out differ as well. Those sentenced to do time for a federal crime will be sent to a federal prison, while those who serve time for a state crime will be sent to state prison or county jail.

Federal prisons tend to house more non-violent offenders (such as people convicted of white-collar crimes), while state prisons often house large populations of people convicted of violent crimes.

Choosing The Right Attorney

Choosing the right attorney for your case means choosing an attorney that, preferably, has experience defending clients in both state and federal court.

When speaking with your current or prospective attorneys, ask them about their experience in each system and the outcomes of their cases. Make sure your attorney clearly explains the charges being brought against you, and what the implications are in either state or federal court.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

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