In the United States, a person can be prosecuted either in state or Federal court. This is due to the fact that state governments and the Federal government are considered separate sovereign governments. In order to prosecute a crime, the prosecutor in the case must have jurisdiction over the matter. To establish jurisdiction, the defendant must be charged with either a state or Federal crime. Generally, most criminal charges arise under state crimes since most crimes occur within the state and violate the state’s specific law. For a Federal prosecutor to have jurisdiction over a case, the defendant must be charged with a Federal crime – a crime that involves crossing state lines, concerns Federal law, or that occurs on Federal property.
Under the Constitution, police powers are given to each state government since they are more capable then the Federal government of handling criminal matters within their own state. Due to this, most criminal charges are charged under state criminal statutes since they happened in that specific state and violated specific law. Violations of State laws are administered by police officers within the state and prosecuted by district attorneys in their own respective districts. Moreover, if a defendant is convicted of a state crime, they will be imprisoned at a state jail or prison.
Generally, the Constitution prohibits the Federal government from policing citizens of individual states. However, the Federal government is allowed to police and regulate any behavior that is sufficiently related to Federal laws, occurs on Federal property, or that involves the crossing of state lines – otherwise known as interstate commerce. As a result of these restrictions, there are far less Federal criminal charges as compared to state criminal charges. However, when Federal charges are filed, they are generally far more serious and the potential punishment far more severe. Moreover, any individual who is convicted of a Federal crime will serve their punishment in more secure Federal prison as opposed to a state jail or prison.
Since the Federal government and individual state governments are considered to be independent sovereign governments, they can both bring criminal charges against an individual when warranted. Although this seems to against an individual’s right against double jeopardy, this is not true since double jeopardy only applies to double charges brought by the same sovereign government, not different sovereign governments. As such, individuals who violate both state and Federal laws may receive double the punishment.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a either a Federal or state crime, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case in either state or Federal court. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.