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What is the difference between state and federal crimes?

If you are facing criminal charges or are under investigation for crimes that may lead to charges, you may have many questions about how your case will transpire and what you can expect. You may already know the charges you are up against, but do you know if they are federal or state charges?

You may think there is not much difference except that your legal proceedings will take place in a different building if police charge you with a federal crime. However, the differences between charges by the state of Pennsylvania and those by the federal government can be significant, and you would be wise to prepare yourself by learning as much as you can about what lies ahead for you.

Which cases typically go to federal court?

Whether you face charges at the state or federal level depends on the crime itself. Some offenses are governed by federal law, such as certain white-collar crimes, some sex offenses, and those crimes that cross state or U.S. borders, such as drug trafficking. While the state may handle many criminal cases, those that are especially grievous or involve amounts of money over a certain amount may fall under the control of the federal government.

Additionally, while crimes such as robberies are typically state offenses, if such a crime occurs on federal property, it is probably going to go to the federal courts. For crimes that target the U.S. government or involve a federally-affiliated institution, such as a bank, the U.S. Postal Service or a military base, the federal government will likely have jurisdiction.

Why does it matter which court hears your case?

If you are facing charges of a federal crime, it matters a great deal. Penalties for convictions of federal crimes are often severe and fall under the mandatory sentencing guidelines established by the government. You may face an extensive prison term, devastating fines and a lifetime with a mark on your record if a federal court convicts you. Your career may suffer, and, since federal cases are often high-profile, you may experience irreparable damage to your reputation.

Since the differences between state and federal charges are significant, it is critical that your legal team have experience with both the Pennsylvania and the federal court systems. It is not uncommon for a simple charge at the federal level to become an entanglement of many charges, requiring a complex defensive strategy. You will want an attorney who can skillfully handle these complex matters.

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