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What Makes a Crime a Federal Offense?

A crime is a crime and a court is a court, right? For those who haven’t committed a lot of crimes in their lifetime, as far as they believe there is no difference between state and federal courts. While the laws and crimes that can land you in either are similar, they are not the same. However, if your criminal case has become a federal one, it is important to know the distinction or risk the harsher punishments.

In order to limit the power of the federal government, states are allowed to make their own unique rules in which govern their citizens. A common example these days is the marijuana law: it is still illegal for use under federal law, but many states have adopted legality for its medical or even recreational use. Yet, if you are arrested for marijuana crimes, there is a chance it could become a federal case, but only if certain criteria are met.

When Does a Case Become Federal?

The federal government is usually perfectly content to let the states handle their own criminal punishments. However, there are times when a state crime becomes elevated to a federal one. These include:

Crimes Across State Lines

If you commit a crime in Minnesota, then that crime will typically be handled by Minnesota state courts. However, when that crime crosses state lines, it becomes a multi-state matter. In drug trafficking cases, for example, if you bring drugs from Wisconsin to Minnesota, it is the same crime committed in two states. This typically elevates it to a federal crime instead of the same crime being tried in both states. However, if you commit separate crimes in different states, it will usually remain on a state level.

Crimes the cross states lines are typically more severe in nature than single state crimes, such as credit card fraud, child pornography, or the above example of drug trafficking. In more severe cases, typically the federal government has an interest in bringing the law down hard on these individuals.

Crimes Against Federal Agencies

If you had been walking around taking mail of out people’s mail boxes, this seems like a very small level crime. However, because it is a crime against the United States Postal Service, a government agency, it is automatically elevated to a federal crime. This is true of all government agencies. However, if a government agency is involved in investigating a crime, such as the DEA with large drug dealers, the charges you get arrested on can also be federal charges.

Special interest Crimes

There are times when a case can be taken over by federal agents and elevated to a federal crime because they have a special interest in it. This can happen when your crime is part of some bigger investigation. It sounds like something out of some cop drama TV show, but it can happen.

What Happens When a Crime Becomes Federal?

When a crime becomes a federal offense, it doesn’t seem like much changes, but two important things do. First, if convicted, you will be sent to a federal prison rather than a state prison. The major downside to this is federal facilities are usually far away from your family and friends, making it very isolating. However, the second thing to consider is that federal cases typically have harsher penalties.

If your case has become a federal one, your best option is to find a lawyer that is skilled in federal law to defend you. Federal cases function in a similar fashion to state cases, but rules can differ and it is important that your lawyer knows how to deal with it. If you have been charged with a federal crime, contact us today so the Carson J. Heefner can help you.