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Why are some crimes charged in federal court?

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2024 | Federal Crimes

The United States has a complex legal system with two main judicial forums: federal courts and state courts. This can lead to confusion, especially when it comes to criminal charges.

Why is a robbery sometimes prosecuted by the state, while other robberies land defendants in federal court? The answer lies in the nature of the crime and which level of government has jurisdiction.

Violating federal law

Federal courts handle cases that violate federal law or the U.S. Constitution. These laws typically involve issues of national importance or that cross state lines. State courts, on the other hand, deal with crimes that violate state laws, which often focus on matters of public safety and order within a particular state.

Federal v. state jurisdiction

Certain crimes directly affect the well-being of the entire nation. Federal offenses may include, but are not limited to:

  • Counterfeiting U.S. currency
  • Espionage
  • Transnational cybercrime

These acts undermine national security and economic stability, warranting federal prosecution with potentially harsher penalties.

Crimes that transcend state borders also fall under federal jurisdiction. These may include:

  • Interstate drug trafficking
  • Mail fraud

These activities disrupt the smooth functioning of interstate commerce and require a unified national response.

Moreover, crimes committed on federal land, like national parks or military bases, are handled in federal court. This helps to ensure consistent enforcement of federal laws and regulations across all federal property regardless of location.

Additionally, offenses directed at the federal government, its employees or its agencies are prosecuted federally. Examples include:

  • Assaulting a federal officer
  • Defrauding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Tampering with federal records

These acts directly hinder the federal government’s ability to function effectively.

In some cases, both federal and state laws can be violated by a single act. This is known as concurrent jurisdiction. For instance, robbing a bank insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is a federal offense, but the act of robbery itself might also violate state law. Prosecutors then decide which court system is best suited to handle the case.

Understanding the reasons behind federal charges empowers individuals to be more informed about the legal system. If you are ever facing criminal charges, it’s crucial to consult with a reliable legal team that can craft a solid defense strategy appropriate for the court system that has jurisdiction over your case and guide you through the legal process accordingly.