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Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

September 25, 2023

In the United States, the legal system is complex and multi-tiered, with both federal and state governments having the authority to enact and enforce criminal laws. This duality often leads to confusion regarding the distinctions between federal crimes and state crimes. While both types of offenses involve violations of the law, they differ significantly in terms of jurisdiction, prosecution, and sentencing.

Federal Crimes


Federal crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, specifically the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). These offenses are outlined in federal statutes and typically involve matters of national significance or those that cross state lines.

Types of Offenses

Federal crimes often pertain to a wide range of areas, including but not limited to:

  • Terrorism-related activities
  • Immigration violations
  • Drug trafficking
  • Bank robbery
  • Tax evasion
  • Counterfeiting
  • Wire and mail fraud
  • Kidnapping that crosses state lines
  • Federal civil rights violations


Federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), typically investigate federal crimes. These agencies have extensive resources and jurisdictional reach.


Federal prosecutors, known as United States Attorneys, handle cases involving federal crimes. These prosecutors are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. They are responsible for pursuing charges and representing the federal government in court.


Federal crimes are tried in federal courts, including U.S. District Courts and U.S. Courts of Appeals. Federal judges preside over these cases, and federal sentencing guidelines are used to determine penalties.

State Crimes


State crimes fall under the jurisdiction of individual state governments. Each state has its own set of criminal laws, which can vary significantly from one state to another. State governments have authority over matters that do not involve federal jurisdiction.

Types of Offenses:

State crimes encompass a wide range of offenses, including:

  • Murder
  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Theft
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug possession (excluding cases with federal implications)
  • DUI (Driving Under the Influence)
  • Traffic violations
  • State-level tax evasion


State law enforcement agencies, such as state police, county sheriff’s offices, and municipal police departments, investigate state crimes. These agencies operate within the boundaries of their respective states.


State prosecutors, often referred to as district attorneys or state’s attorneys, handle cases involving state crimes. They are typically elected or appointed officials responsible for bringing criminal charges and representing the state in court.


State crimes are tried in state courts, which may include trial courts, appellate courts, and state supreme courts. Judges in these courts are appointed or elected at the state level. Sentencing for state crimes is determined by state laws and guidelines.

Key Differences between Federal and State Crimes

Jurisdictional Scope

The most fundamental difference between federal and state crimes is the jurisdictional scope. Federal crimes involve matters of national or interstate significance, whereas state crimes are limited to the boundaries of a particular state.

Investigating Agencies

Federal crimes are investigated by federal agencies with nationwide authority, while state crimes are investigated by state and local law enforcement agencies.


Federal prosecutors, or United States Attorneys, handle federal cases, while state prosecutors, such as district attorneys, are responsible for state cases.


Federal crimes are tried in federal courts, and federal sentencing guidelines apply. State crimes are adjudicated in state courts, with sentencing determined by state laws.

Legal Codes

Federal crimes are governed by federal statutes, and violations of these statutes are prosecuted as federal offenses. State crimes are governed by state statutes and are prosecuted as state offenses.


Penalties for federal crimes tend to be more severe than those for state crimes, given the often larger scale and seriousness of federal offenses.

Juror Selection

Jury selection processes can differ between federal and state courts. In federal courts, jurors are often drawn from a broader geographical area and may serve for more extended periods, while state jurors are typically chosen from a pool within the county where the crime occurred.


Federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors generally have more extensive resources and manpower compared to their state counterparts.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our experienced criminal defense attorneys specialize in both federal and state crimes, offering comprehensive legal representation tailored to your unique situation. Contact us today to ensure your rights are protected and to receive the guidance you need during this challenging time.