The Difference Between Federal and State Criminal Charges

If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina, you may be wondering whether you are facing state or criminal charges. You may also wonder what the differences are between the two charges. State crimes are crimes that break North Carolina law. The majority of criminal charges faced by North Carolina residents are state crimes. Federal crimes break federal laws and are prosecuted by federal prosecutors in federal courts.

Examples of State and Federal Crimes

Examples of state criminal charges include rape, murder, DUI, drug possession, theft, robbery, shoplifting, and assault. Most misdemeanor charges are state crimes. Common examples of federal criminal charges include tax evasion, terrorism, and those levied by the IRS. Other federal criminal charges can include robbery, mail fraud, bank fraud, and theft from emails. Drug crimes can be charged as state or federal crimes, depending on the amount of drugs involved and whether the drugs crossed state or international lines.

Other crimes that cross the boundaries between states can also be considered federal crimes, such as kidnapping. Computer crimes, including internet pornography and computer hacking, are not limited by state boundaries. These are usually charged as federal crimes. Additionally, you could be charged with a federal crime if you are charged with a DUI on federal property, such as a military base.

The Difference Between State and Federal Judicial Procedures

The judicial procedures for state and federal crimes are separate. State and federal courts are physically separate from each other. They have different judges and different prosecuting attorneys. The rules of procedure are also completely different for state and federal courts. Regardless of their location, all federal courts follow the same Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. State courts follow rules laid down by state courts and legislatures. These differences can make a difference in the outcome of your case, especially in criminal proceedings.

Judges in federal courts are required to implement federal sentencing guidelines. These guidelines provide federal judges with regulations on appropriate sentences for different crimes. They used to be mandatory, but now they are merely advisory. However, many judges still rely on these guidelines heavily. The guidelines set out a formula that combines the defendant's criminal record with the nature of the offense committed to recommend a sentencing amount. Judges must take the sentencing amount in the guidelines when making decisions on sentencing in criminal cases.

Regarding state courts, state judges and legislatures are responsible for defining sentencing policies. Many state legislatures have passed laws explicitly outlining minimum and maximum sentencing penalties for specific crimes. The laws for state and federal crimes are constantly changing.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, it is essential a specialist in federal law represents you. Federal judges constantly apply, amend, and interpret federal sentencing guidelines. Your attorney needs to be current on the latest sentencing guidelines changes. Similarly, if you are charged with a state-based crime in North Carolina, you need an attorney with extensive knowledge of North Carolina criminal laws.

The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause

When a committed crime violates federal and North Carolina laws, and there are concerns over a jurisdiction, courts must comply with the Constitutional Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. This class states that federal law takes higher priority over state law and that federal authorities will determine the course of the investigation and determine who will prosecute the defendant. These types of conflicts often involve drug-related cases.

Suppose a North Carolina County Sheriff's Department is investigating drug trafficking charges. In that case, the federal Department of Justice has the right to claim jurisdiction over the case, especially if it crosses state lines. Even if the case does not cross state lines, the federal government can still take the case. The local police must give the case over to federal investigators and prosecutors because federal law supersede state law. Federal law enforcement agencies investigate Federal offenses and include the following:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Secret Service
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
Contact a Charlotte Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing state or federal criminal charges, contacting an experienced attorney can help you protect your rights and preserve your freedom. Do not hesitate to contact the skilled Charlotte criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC to schedule a complimentary case evaluation and learn how we can fight for you.