If you are accused of any type of crime in Florida, you’re not alone, and you will have many questions and fears about the criminal justice process. One of those questions, depending on whether you face state or federal charges – or both – is what the differences are between the two.

The main distinction between federal and state charges is jurisdiction. Jurisdiction refers to a court’s power and authority to hear certain cases. Whether a court holds jurisdiction depends not only on where a crime was allegedly committed and where the alleged victim and perpetrators are located, but the type of case itself.

Federal crimes involve laws passed by the United States Congress, or crimes that involve interstate criminal activities (such as trafficking drugs or weapons across state borders).Some examples of federal crimes are:

  • Crimes on federal properties or against federal officials;
  • Crimes where a suspect crosses state borders, or the crime is between residents of different U.S. states;
  • Crimes where the criminal conduct crosses state lines;
  • Civil rights violations and hate crimes;
  • Crimes involving alleged fraud of federally-administered programs; and
  • Customs and immigration violations.

State courts have broader jurisdiction than federal courts, and will generally handle cases involving domestic violence, traffic violations including DUI, assault, sexual assault, robbery, drug possession, and other offenses commonly committed by citizens at a local level.

In some cases, a person may face charges at both the state and federal levels simultaneously. For example, a drug possession charge in Florida might overlap with a broader drug trafficking investigation at the federal level. In these situations, law enforcement and prosecutors tend to collaborate on where and how to bring criminal charges against a person.

State and federal courts also operate under different rules of criminal procedure. Federal rules regarding procedural timelines, motions, discovery, and presentation of evidence at trial can differ substantially from those in state court cases, with sometimes harsh consequences that ignore federal guidelines.

Another key distinction – and one defendants are most worried about – is the range of potential punishments between the state and federal systems. If convicted in federal court, the defendant receives a term in federal prison instead of state prison or county jail. Additionally, federal sentencing guidelines tend to be far more tough and inflexible than those in the state court system. Parole is not an option in the federal system, either, meaning defendants serve, on average 85% of their time sentenced, and the average sentence imposed is about 12 years.

Whether You Have Been Charged with a State or Federal Offense, the Tampa Criminal Defense Attorneys at Trombley & Hanes Can Help

With so much on the line, a defendant can not leave anything to chance. This is true whether a person is charged in the federal or state court system. If federal charges are involved, you must have a defense attorney that is licensed to practice in Florida’s Federal Courts, and you should not hire an attorney that “dabbles” in this area, either.

At Trombley & Hanes, our Tampa criminal lawyers have decades of experience in both the federal and state courts of Florida, handling a wide variety of criminal cases. If you have any questions about your case and potential strategies, call our office at 813-229-7918, or visit our firm online today.