Overview of Federal Crimes
If you or a loved one have been charged with a federal crime, it is incredibly important that you understand what these charges are and who can best help you as your defense team. Federal crimes are extremely serious, and not every defense attorney has the experience and know-how to assist defendants who have federal charges. We will explain a little bit about what these crimes are. Then we will discuss the ways that you can address them so you can make the best decision when choosing your representation.
What are federal crimes?
Federal crimes are crimes that are in violation of the United States federal law. To put that more simply, these are crimes that the federal government has decided should be considered a crime in every state and territory belonging to the United States. Cities and states have a lot of their own specific laws; however, federal laws are “umbrella” laws applicable to anyone in the country, no matter where they live or where they are when a crime takes place.
If I commit a crime in Missouri, will I be charged in Missouri?
When anyone is accused of a crime, the goal of the legal system is for that crime to be prosecuted as locally as possible. If you get a speeding ticket while driving in Springfield, Missouri, your case would be settled in a local Springfield court since Springfield has specific laws on its books that prohibit speeding within the city limits.
But let’s suppose that Springfield did not have such speeding laws on their books. Then we would go up to the next larger jurisdiction that has a law concerning speeding, which would be Greene County. (This would also apply if someone were speeding in rural Greene County, not within any city limits.) If the county did not have any laws about speeding, then the case might be prosecuted by the State of Missouri. Lastly, if Missouri did not have any specific laws about speeding on their books and it was listed as a federal crime, it would fall under the jurisdiction of the United States. In some situations, a crime will violate both state and federal law, and both jurisdictions are allowed to pursue charges under the dual sovereignty doctrine.
There are also a few other key cases that would be exceptions. A crime would be considered to be under federal jurisdiction if it were committed in a federally owned building (such as a federal courthouse), in a national park, in a national forest, or on an Indian Reservation, no matter in which state those places were located.
What is jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction means the authority to make legal decisions and judgments. We have probably all seen lots of movies and TV shows where there are two different agencies that show up at a crime scene. One of the first things to happen in this situation is that one officer says to another, “This isn’t your jurisdiction.” What that one officer is saying to the other officer is that the local authorities should have control over the case because it is a violation of the law where they operate.
Jurisdiction also means the area to which that authority to make legal decisions and judgment extends. A Springfield police officer’s jurisdiction is only in Springfield. A Greene County Sheriff’s Deputy has jurisdiction in all of Greene County. An FBI officer, ATF officer, or CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer’s jurisdiction is the entire country.
What are some examples of federal crimes?
There are about 5,000 crimes in the U.S. Penal Code, ranging from many things you have heard of to the much less common (such as Piracy, Submitting a False Weather Report, Having a Stowaway on a Ship, etc.). But overall, we can break down a lot of the crimes into just a few categories:
- counterfeiting and forgery
- drug crimes
- weapon crimes
- fraud (mail, tax, bank, identity theft, etc.)
- embezzlement and theft
- child pornography
- immigration crimes
- crimes involving animals and plants
- crimes against United States employees
I have been charged with a crime that took place in Missouri, but I am being charged in a federal court. What is up with that?
There are certain instances where the federal courts might take over a case from the local jurisdiction. The U.S. Constitution gives the federal courts authority over certain kinds of crimes like bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud, counterfeiting, and tax fraud.
The federal government is also likely to handle any crimes that were committed across state lines, such as the distribution of drugs or weapons from one state to another. These crimes are likely to be prosecuted both at the state level as well as at the federal level.
Even if you are found not guilty in Missouri, you can still be prosecuted federally. The state of Missouri can not charge you twice for the same crime (this is known as Double Jeopardy), but the state court’s case and the federal court’s case are considered to be two separate offenses.
What should I do if I have been charged with a federal crime?
If you have been charged with a federal crime, you need to quickly find a good law team experienced in the defense of federal crimes. At Twibell Pierson Criminal Law, our highly experienced, knowledgeable attorneys have handled and won an extensive amount of federal cases.
Your attorney’s experience with federal law will make or break your chances of being acquitted of any charge. You will find that our litigation, negotiation, and communication skills will give you the best chance of mitigating or even avoiding jail time. We will make sure that your case is our highest priority, and we will not stop working on it until we make sure that your rights have been protected.