Federal Crimes and State Crimes

What Are the differences?

State crimes are those crimes which break state law and which cover the majority of crimes.  Federal crimes are those crimes which the federal government has specifically designated as federal crimes.  Federal law has priority over state laws.

Examples of federal and state crimes

Examples of state crimes include: murder, rape, DUI, theft, drug possession, robbery and shoplifting, and assault.  The majority of misdemeanors are state crimes.

Examples of federal crimes are terrorism, tax evasion if the taxes are those levied by the IRS, bank robberies and bank fraud, mail fraud and theft from the emails.  Some narcotics crimes can be federal crimes if they involve the purchase of drugs in one state and the sale of them in another state.

Other crimes which cross the boundaries of one state, such as kidnapping can also be federal crimes.  Because computer crimes such as internet pornography or computer hacking crimes not limited by state boundaries they are usually federal crimes. Also if you are charged with DUI while on federal property then that could be a federal crime.

Federal and state judicial procedures

The judicial procedures and jurisdictions for federal and state crimes are entirely separate.  Federal courts are physically separate from state courts.  In Mississippi the courts are organized in different districts, Northern and Southern.  They have different judges and different prosecuting attorneys and different courtroom procedures.

Federal courts, regardless of their location follow the same Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure while state courts follow rules laid down by state legislatures and courts.  These differences alone will not make a huge difference to the outcome of most cases but will influence the procedures for the criminal proceedings.

In federal courts judges across the country have to take account of The Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  These provide advice to federal judges on appropriate sentences for different crimes.  The Guidelines used to be mandatory but since 2005 they have just been advisory.

The Guidelines set out a formula, combining the nature of the offense committed with the defendant’s criminal record.  Judges make their own decisions on what sentences to apply.  However Judges are required to take account of the Guidelines when making decisions on sentencing.

In individual states, state legislatures and state judges define sentencing policies.  Many state legislatures have passed laws outlining maximum and minimum sentencing penalties for particular crimes.

For example many states, including Mississippi, have passed ‘habitual offenses’ laws, also known as ‘Three Strikes and Out’ laws which require that judges impose life sentences if a criminal has been convicted of 3 felonies.  Whether there is a death penalty for state crimes is also determined by individual states.

The laws for both federal and state crimes are constantly changing.  If you are charged with a federal offense then it is important that you are represented by a specialist in federal law.  For example the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are constantly being applied, amended and interpreted and it is important that your attorney is up to the mark on the latest changes.  For alleged state crimes you will need a specialist in Mississippi state law.