Overview of Federal Crimes
If you or a loved one has been charged with a federal crime, it is incredibly important to understand what these charges are and who can help. Federal crimes are extremely serious and not every attorney has the experience and knowhow to assist federal defendants. Let’s explain a little bit about what these crimes are and how to best address them so you can make the best decision in your representation.
What are federal crimes?
Federal crimes are crimes that are in violation of the United States federal law, or to put that more simply, crimes that the government has decided should be a crime in every state and territory belonging to the United States. Cities and states have a lot of their own laws but think of federal laws as “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 to have that crime prosecuted as locally as possible. If you get a speeding ticket while driving in Springfield, that case would be settled in a Springfield court as Springfield has laws on its books prohibiting speeding within city limits.
But let’s say Springfield didn’t have such laws on their books. Then we’d go up to the next larger jurisdiction that has a law concerning speeding, which would be Greene County. (This would also apply if someone was speeding in rural Greene County, not within any city limits.) If the county didn’t have any laws about speeding, then it might be prosecuted by the State of Missouri. Lastly, if Missouri didn’t have the laws on their books and it was listed as a federal crime, it would fall in the jurisdiction of the United States. In some situations, a crime will violate both state and federal law and both jurisdictions can pursue charges under the dual sovereignty doctrine.
There are also a few other key “exception” cases. A crime would be found to be under federal jurisdiction if it were committed in a federally owned building (think a federal courthouse), in a national park, national forest or on an Indian Reservation no matter what state those were located in.
What is jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction means the authority to make legal decisions and judgments. We’ve probably all seen lots of movies and TV shows where there are two different agencies that show up at a crime scene and one officer says to another, “This isn’t your jurisdiction”. What the one officer is saying to the other is that the more local authorities should have control over the case because it is against the law where they operate.
Jurisdiction also means the area to which that authority to make legal decisions and judgment extend. A Springfield police officer’s jurisdiction is Springfield. A Greene County Sheriff’s Deputy’s jurisdiction is Greene County. An FBI officer, ATF officer, or CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer’s jurisdiction is the entire country.
What are examples of federal crimes?
There are about 5,000 crimes in the U.S. Penal Code ranging from a lot of things you’ve heard of to the much less common (think 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 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 U.S. employees
I have been charged with a crime that took place in Missouri, but I am being charged in a federal court. What gives?
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 distribution of drugs or weapons from one state to another. These crimes are likely to be prosecuted both at the state level and at the federal level as well.
Even if you are found not guilty in Missouri, you can still be prosecuted federally. The state of Missouri can’t charge you twice for the same crime (known as Double Jeopardy), but the state’s case and the federal court’s case are considered separate offenses.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with a federal crime?
You need to find a good law team experienced in the defense of federal crimes. At Twibell Pierson Criminal Law, we 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, and our litigation, negotiation, and communication skills will give you the best chance of mitigating or avoiding jail time. We will make sure that your case is our highest priority and we will not stop until we make sure that your rights have been protected.