Federal Crimes Law

An Overview of Federal Crimes and the Charges

What Is Federal Crimes Law?

Mr. John Musca
By Attorney John Musca - Criminal Lawyer Florida

Musca Law - Criminal Lawyers Florida Musca Law
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Musca Law is a full-service criminal defense firm with 23 offices in Florida, serves clients throughout the state. Practice areas include child pornography and other sex crimes, federal crimes, DUI (drunk driving) charges, traffic offense, theft crimes, drug charges, violent crimes, juvenile offenses, white collar crime, probation violations, and other felonies and misdemeanors.
While it is always important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer if you are being charged with a crime, it is paramount in cases involving federal crimes. These crimes may be even more serious and may result in longer sentences if you are convicted. It is important that you understand the process involved in federal criminal investigations and prosecutions, the types of crimes that may be charged as a criminal offense, the potential penalties and the key distinctions between federal crimes and state crimes.

Basics of Federal Crimes

Federal crimes can be charged in federal court when a defendant's activities violate a federal criminal law, a crime that is committed across state lines or a crime that is committed in international waters over which the United States has jurisdiction. These crimes may also occur on federal property such as a post office, federal government building or airport.

Federal criminal laws are defined by the federal criminal code. These crimes are prohibited under federal statutes. There are also federal laws regarding the potential criminal sentence that a defendant can receive if convicted of a crime of this nature.

Types of Federal Crimes

There are many federal crimes. Just a few of them include:

Drug Crimes
Drug crimes may involve misdemeanor drug possession charges all the way to more serious offenses such as drug manufacturing, trafficking or distribution which are felonies.

RICO Violations
Racketeering and other RICO violations may be charged as federal offenses. Organized groups that conduct illegal business dealings may engage in additional offenses, including money laundering, embezzlement, fraud, bribery or extortion. These charges are prosecuted pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Conspiracies
Conspiracy charges involve two or more individuals who are suspected of engaging in serious crimes, such as drug trafficking, fraud, embezzlement or other federal crimes. A person who faces charges for a conspiracy may be at risk for additional charges if he or she committed a crime, additional penalties for the actions of other co-conspirators or greater criminal penalties.

Bank, Securities and Other Forms of Fraud
Some offenses involve the use of banks or other financial institutions. Bank or securities fraud charges may arise when an individual submits false documents to obtain a loan or achieve other financial gain. These charges can also arise if the defendant engages in unlawful securities schemes that harm financial firms, investors or the markets. Bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud or wire fraud or other types of fraud charges may apply.

Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud can be charged if a credit card or similar format is used to make purchases, withdraw funds or obtain financial gain while intending to avoid payment.

Internet Crimes
Internet crimes may involve a host of various illegal activities that utilize computers, networks or other internet technology. Such crimes may include:
  • Identity theft
  • Online predators
  • Piracy
  • Counterintelligence
  • Election fraud
  • Hacking
  • Phishing scams
  • Online solicitation
  • Child pornography

Violent Crimes
Federal crimes may involve violent crimes, such as robbery, homicide or hate crimes. They may also include firearm and weapons charges involving the possession, use, distribution or sale of firearms.

Immigration Crimes
Other federal crimes involve immigration offenses, including illegal entry, harboring illegal aliens, human trafficking, re-entry after removal from the United States, immigration fraud or marriage fraud.

Property Crimes
Some property crimes may also be charged as a federal offense, such as arson, bank robbery or certain types of burglary. Major theft of valuable items like jewelry, art and gems may be charged as a federal offense. Counterfeiting and forgery charges may also be brought as federal offenses. Illegally downloading content on the internet can also be a federal offense. Tax evasion and other offenses that violate the federal tax code can be prosecuted as a federal offense.

Kidnapping may also be charged as a federal offense, especially when a person crosses state lines in its commission.

Public Corruption
Public corruption can include a variety of offenses that cause the public to lose trust in their government or elected officials. Corruption can occur at the local, state or federal level. It may involve the judicial system, public safety or politics. A variety of acts can constitute public corruption, including fraud, embezzlement, blackmail, extortion, money laundering or bribery.

Differences in Federal and State Criminal Process

There are a variety of differences between how federal and state investigations and prosecutions process. Some of the key distinctions between federal and state crimes include:

Involvement of Federal Agencies
Federal crimes often include the involvement of federal agencies. For example, some crimes may be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Immigration authorities may be involved. The Drug Enforcement Agency may be responsible for the investigation and search and seizure. In some situations, state agencies may pair with federal agencies. Federal organizations may be able to provide additional investigators and resources to help investigate the underlying offense. In some situations, a prosecutor from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice or other federal agency may join the federal prosecutor.

Investigative Process
In state prosecutions, the prosecutor may not build his or her case until after a person is arrested. In federal cases, investigators often build a case before the arrest and may have ample evidence before an arrest.

Different Prosecutors
At the state level, a local prosecutor is given the charges law enforcement made against the defendant. However, in federal cases, the case is assigned to an Assistant United States Attorney. These individuals are usually seasoned prosecutors who have developed experience before moving into this position. They may have greater knowledge and skill in these types of cases. They may have fewer cases than local prosecutors and may spend more time in the investigative stage than local prosecutors who may be referred cases only shortly before it is ready for court. Federal prosecutors may work with federal law enforcement agents as the case develops.

Different Discovery System
State courts and federal courts have different guidelines regarding the discovery process. This is the process in which the prosecutor or criminal defense lawyer can get information about the case from the other side. Federal prosecutors are not required to provide as much information as easily as state courts require local prosecutors to do. Generally, a criminal defense lawyer only has to make a demand for discovery to receive all relevant information from the prosecutor. The Jencks Act does not require federal prosecutors to submit witness statements to the defense unless the witness has already testified in some manner and only if the criminal defense lawyer requests it.

Different Judges
Another important distinction is that federal crimes are heard by federal judges. United States Magistrate Judges may handle the initial aspects of a case after a person is arrested on federal charges. He or she may also preside over motions during the early stages in the case. A United States District Judge may then hear the remainder of the case. These judges are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. Federal district court judges serve for life. Federal district court judges have fewer cases than most state court judges. While in state court, many cases may be given the same hearing date, federal courts may only preside over one case at a time. In state court, the prosecutor may not be ready to proceed with the case and the state court judge may dismiss the case. Federal prosecutors are usually prepared for the defendant's trial during a federal case and ready to proceed with trial.

Different Bail System
The bail system is usually different for state cases than federal ones. In state courts, the only condition of release may be that the criminal defendant pays a certain amount of money. In federal court, the judge often imposes additional conditions of release. This usually includes cash bail as well as other conditions like mental health testing, submission of review of financial information and home arrest via electronic monitoring an ankle bracelet. Additionally, the defendant may be assigned supervision by an officer in a federal pretrial services office and be required to meet with this officer periodically during the pre-trial timeframe.

Different Jury Pool
In state court, the jury pool is comprised of individuals who reside in the same county as the court. In federal cases, jurors reside in the judicial district where the court is located, which is usually comprised of multiple counties. This often translates to the potential jury pool being of a more diverse background than they would in state court juries.

Potential Penalties for Conviction of a Federal Crime

The consequences of a federal conviction are often much more severe than an equivalent state charge. For example, a person charged with possession of five grams of cocaine may be negotiated to a probationary sentence or a short jail sentence. However, prosecution as a federal crime for the same offense can result in a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years in prison. Additionally, while many states have decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana, at the time of publication, marijuana is still considered a drug under federal law, so conduct that may not be illegal on the state level may be illegal or punished more harshly on the federal level.

The federal sentencing guidelines became effective in 1987. If a defendant is found guilty, these guidelines are applied. These guidelines establish minimum and mandatory penalties. Each offense is assigned a base offense level between 1 and 43. The more serious the crime, the higher the offense level it is given. Certain relevant conduct may act to increase or decrease the base offense level, such as the defendant's criminal history, truthfulness when dealing with authorities and cooperation. A number of factors are considered when assigning base offense levels, including:
  • The offense for which the defendant is convicted
  • The defendant's role in the criminal activity
  • The amount of money or drugs involved
  • The defendant's criminal history

A total offense level is then assigned based on these mitigating or aggravating factors. This number is compared to the defendant's criminal history category that includes different points. This comparison gives a range of months of incarceration that the defendant should be assigned.

However, the guidelines are broad, giving judges wide discretion when imposing sentences. Federal prosecutors are familiar with these guidelines and may seek the harshest penalties possible. Federal sentences tend to be longer than state sentences. Additionally, substantial fines can be imposed. These charges may result in a permanent criminal record. A record of this nature may result in the loss of rights, disqualification of public benefits, the inability to apply for a federal student loan, difficulty finding a place to live and the inability to pursue certain employment or educational paths. The defendant's criminal defense lawyer will attempt to establish any mitigating factors that can serve to lessen any sentence that is imposed. The judge can depart from the sentencing guidelines.

Factors that may affect the sentence that is imposed on a defendant include:
  • Whether the defendant was in drug treatment
  • If the defendant has a family to support
  • The defendant's background
  • Any prior criminal history and the circumstances surrounding this criminal activity
  • The defendant's character

Prosecution of State and Federal Crimes

Generally, a person cannot be prosecuted for the same offense because double jeopardy principles apply. However, this principle does not apply if the federal government makes the decision to pursue charges against a defendant in addition to other state charges that the individual is already facing. In this way, a person may be prosecuted in two separate courts based on the same underlying conduct.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Assistance

Being charged with a federal crime is a serious matter. A conviction can result in years behind bars, high fines, long probation sentences and other serious consequences that can have long-lasting effects on your life. The federal government often infuses substantial resources into federal criminal investigations and prosecutions. It is important to counteract these factors with a legal advocate of your own. This can help level the playing field.

For defense against a criminal charge, you may want to check for certain qualifications and characteristics. For example, you may want to find a criminal defense lawyer who is already licensed to practice law in front of federal court. You may also want to inquire about the lawyer's history of defending people against federal offenses and his or her track record. Because federal cases involve different guidelines and rules of criminal procedure, it is important that your lawyer understand these factors. Experience in federal court is important because of the drastic differences between federal and state court systems.

A defense lawyer can help design a comprehensive legal defense strategy that helps you protect your rights and your freedom. A criminal defense lawyer can talk to you about the various aspects of the case. He or she can conduct research and investigate each component of the case. He or she can ensure that your constitutional rights are protected at each stage of the process.

If you are being questioned by federal authorities or learn that you are a person of interest, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer can advise whether or not it is in your best interests to talk to authorities and work to protect your rights at each stage of the process. Statements that are made or evidence that is uncovered during the investigative aspect of the case can have a direct impact on the outcome of the case. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can provide you with advance and help during this stage of your case.

Federal Crimes Law Explained

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  • Federal, State, or Local: Who has Jurisdiction?

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    Federal forfeiture laws permit certain authorities to take property from a person without charging him or her with a crime which constitutes a loss of the property permanently in most circumstances.

  • What Is Federal Embezzlement?

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