There are many things that are illegal: theft, drugs, assault, murder, rape, drinking and driving, domestic violence, fraud. The list goes on and on. If you were to commit or be accused of committing one of these crimes, you could be arrested and criminally charged.
If you are accused of violating a Florida law, you will be charged with a state crime and prosecuted by the State of Florida. However, depending on specific details of the accusation, you may be charged with violating federal law as well, which could mean you could be charged with a federal crime and prosecuted by the federal government instead.
What exactly is the difference between the two types of charges? Let’s explore that now.
Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes
A federal crime is one which violated a law passed by the United States Congress, and tends to be directed towards criminal activity on more of a national level.
Some examples of federal crimes are:
- Crimes that happen on federal land or involve a federal official;
- Crimes where the suspect crosses state lines;
- Crimes where the criminal conduct crosses state lines; and
- Customs and immigration violations.
With these guidelines, we can determine that certain crimes are automatically federal.
- If a murder occurs on an Indian reservation, which is federal land, that is a federal crime.
- If you make a threat on the President of the United States – a federal official – you will be dealing with the federal government.
- Kidnapping someone and driving across state lines is a federal crime.
- Counterfeiting currency produced by the U.S. government can be a federal crime.
State crimes, on the other hand, violate state laws. In our state, we have a law against driving under the influence. That’s not a federal law, it’s a Florida law. So if you’re caught drinking and driving with a blood alcohol level above .08, you will be arrested and charged with a state crime. The same goes for possessing or selling drugs, sexual assault, burglary, theft, murder, and a slew of other state crimes.
Remember, though, a state crime could also possibly be a federal crime. It all comes down to the details. Who was involved? Where did the alleged crime take place? What type of crime was supposedly committed? These things will determine if someone receives state or federal charges.
If you violate a law that could be charged as either a state or federal crime, the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution says that federal law takes precedence over state law. So if you are a person of interest to the federal government or the crime is significant enough, you will be charged with a federal crime instead of a state crime.
Cracking Down on State and Federal Crimes
As mentioned above, states are free handle violations of their own laws – unless, of course, the crime falls under federal jurisdiction.
Recently, however, the federal government has become more and more involved in certain situations – drugs and violent crimes, for example – that used to be left to the states. Under our current United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, federal involvement might continue to increase.
On top of that, Sessions plans to bring back harsher sentences that President Obama worked to reform.
In a memo released last month, Sessions and the Justice Department established a new policy that requires prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense(s), which are those offenses that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”
Under this memo, it seems that a state-level crime will end up with a federal-level punishment. So low-level or repeat offenders might have to face longer, and in some cases even life, sentences.
Many defense attorneys throughout our state received letters giving them two weeks to reach plea deals before these new, harsher guidelines would take place.
Many were surprised by this news and believe that the harshest sentence isn’t necessarily the best way to fight crime. Unfortunately, as long as Sessions is Attorney General, it seems that’s the way we’re heading.
For this reason, if you’re charged with any crime – regardless of whether it’s a state or federal crime – it’s more important than ever that you contact an experienced Florida defense attorney and fight back.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.