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State vs. Federal Crimes


In the United States, the federal government, as well as each individual state, has laws which classify and regulate criminal conduct. Generally, state crimes violate laws that are specific to that state, such as traffic violations, and federal crimes violate the federal legal code, such as producing counterfeit money. However, there are many areas of the law which can overlap and whether a crime is a state or federal offense can depend on a number of factors. Accordingly, there are both federal and state courts which hear crimes that violate their respective laws. How a criminal offense will be classified and what court will hear the case depends largely on who has jurisdiction over the crime. Jurisdiction refers to who has the authorization and power to legally decide the outcome of a case.

A crime can be a federal offense if:

  • Criminal misconduct occurs in multiple states
  • The perpetrator of a crime crosses state lines
  • The crime involves the United States or federal officers
  • A crime occurs on federal Land

State and federal laws do share many similarities. For example, both can classify criminal offenses as either felonies or misdemeanors and there are many instances where a state’s law will closely resemble federal law. For example federal legal codes and New Jersey law both provide regulations dealing with illegal drugs. While they mirror each other closely, there are differences between drug classifications and punishments. Federal laws apply to every state in the nation while a state’s law only has authority within its borders.

When a crime falls under both legal codes, it is possible to be charged with either a state or federal offense. Crimes are judged on a case to case basis and only a qualified attorney can advise on the particulars of how an offense may be charged. While not always true, federal cases typically take longer to complete. This can happen for numerous reasons including an overall larger scope of investigations. Multiple government agencies may be involved and must coordinate their efforts. Similarly, there are fewer federal attorneys so the legal process as a whole may be slower than in state criminal cases.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorney

The criminal justice system can be tremendously complex and if you have been charged with a crime, it may be easy to become overwhelmed. Whether you are facing state charges, federal charges, a misdemeanor, or a felony, the legal team at the Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC can help you to understand exactly what is happening with your case. Our criminal defense attorney is a former prosecutor who knows how both the state and federal government are likely to structure criminal charges. If you have questions about the case against you, contact our firm and learn about how we can help.

Call (201) 574-7919 and schedule a free consultation to learn about your legal options.

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