Those who helped create the U.S. Constitution wanted to limit the power the government has over its people. They accomplished this goal by reserving federal criminal courts for specific types of offenses and jurisdictions.
Yet, most people don’t understand the difference between federal and state criminal charges.
What criminal cases belong in federal court?
Cases that appear in federal court typically involve the federal government in some way or involve crimes that occur over state lines. For example, when a person robs a store, the state will prosecute the case. However, if a person robs a bank insured by a federal agency, it could fall into the federal court jurisdiction. Other types of criminal cases that may land in federal court include:
- Mail, healthcare and wire fraud
- Some weapons offenses
- Harming federal officers
- Racketeering or corruption crimes
When these offenses are severe or cause a lot of collateral damage, the federal justice system may take over the case.
Who can start a federal criminal case?
Only a member of the government, usually the U.S. attorney, can initiate a federal criminal case. For example, the local district attorney serving here in Raleigh, North Carolina, cannot decide that a case belongs in federal court. Once the U.S. attorney starts a case, it will proceed to a grand jury panel who will hear the evidence and decide if a trial is necessary.
What happens at trial?
In some ways, federal trials resemble state proceedings. For example, each side presents evidence to a jury, which then deliberates and hands down a decision. However, many federal trials contain more procedural actions to protect government witnesses and the defendant’s rights.
To best protect your rights as an American citizen, you need legal counsel familiar with federal criminal defense. Having such an advocate on your team ensures your rights remain intact, and it gives you the best possible chances of overcoming the charges you face.