Federal Crimes

What is the difference between a federal and state crime?

A federal crime is a violation of a statute passed by the United States Congress. A state crime is a violation of a statute or ordinance passed by the state legislature or a local authority. Usually the federal crime addresses criminal activity or a more national concern. Although, in recent decades the federal government has become increasingly involved in prosecuting drug and violent crimes, areas once left almost exclusively to the states. Many crimes are prosecutable in both state and federal courts.

Who investigates and prosecutes federal crimes?

For the most part, federal criminal offenses are investigated by agents of federal agencies such as the FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service and others. Occasionally, state law enforcement officers work in conjunction with federal agencies. Federal crimes are usually prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the area where the crime occurred. Sometimes a prosecutor for the United States Department of Justice, or from an agency such at the Environmental Protection Agency will participate in a federal prosecution.

If I am charged with or under investigation for a federal offense do I need a “federal” criminal defense lawyer?

In order for a lawyer to represent you in a federal criminal matter he or she must be licensed to practice in the federal court where the case is pending or must receive permission of the court to practice there on a one time basis. Additionally, the federal criminal justice system is drastically different than the state system. It is important that your lawyer have experience in federal court so that he or she can effectively represent you.

What are the federal sentencing guidelines?

From 1987 until recently in federal court, if a defendant was found guilty or pleaded guilty, the judge assessed punishment in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. The United States Sentencing Guidelines manual contains the rules for determining the range within which a judge’s sentence was required fall. Factors that went into the determination included, the offense for which the defendant was convicted; certain factors about the offense such as how much money was involved in a financial crime, the role of the defendant in the overall scheme and other factors concerning the defendant’s conduct; and the defendant’s criminal record. The court was required sentence within the applicable guideline range (expressed in a range of months) unless the case was extremely unusual or qualified for one of the few exceptions allowing the judge to depart from the guidelines. Guideline sentencing was a complicated aspect of federal criminal cases. However, the United States Supreme Court, in January 2005 declared the mandatory nature of the guidelines unconstitutional. At this time the guidelines are to be used by the judges as advisory tools to help them exercise their sentencing discretion. Congress will probably act in the near future to again change the sentencing scheme.

If I am under investigation for a federal offense but have not been charged should I contact an attorney?

You should contact an attorney immediately. You have important rights during the investigation that should be protected. How you proceed at this stage may drastically affect the ultimate outcome of your case.
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