Federal Jurisdiction versus State Jurisdiction

Federal crimes and state crimes are completely separate jurisdictions. Federal crimes are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies and are prosecuted by the United States Attorney. The cases are heard by federal judges, appointed by under Article III of the Constitution. State court criminal cases are usually investigated by local or statewide police agencies and are prosecuted by the state attorney’s office (known in some areas as the district attorney.) The cases are heard by the state court judge who may be an elected position or appointed by the governor.

The vast majority of criminal cases are prosecuted in state court because most cases do not have a basis for federal jurisdiction. State court includes the most common violent street crimes as for example rape, murder, sexual assault, and armed robberies. State court also includes property offenses such as thefts, car thefts, burglaries, and shop lifting. Economic and white collar crimes such as state tax fraud, check kiting, consumer fraud can be prosecuted in state court.

If you or a loved one is facing federal or Florida state charges, please call Miami attorney Ken Swartz at the Swartz Law Firm to schedule an initial consultation.

Federal crimes require federal jurisdiction

For a crime to be prosecuted in federal court there must be a basis for federal jurisdiction. The federal jurisdiction may be expressly stated in the statute itself, or it may be stated by Congress when the law is enacted. Many federal criminal statutes fall under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate any activity that effects interstate commerce and authorizes Congress to pass civil and criminal laws regulating interstate activity. Congress’ power to regulate includes the channels of commerce such as waterways, airspace, telecommunication networks and the boundaries with foreign countries. It can also includes the instrumentalities of commerce and the people and things that move in commerce - automobiles, planes, boats, goods being shipped, telephone lines – things that cross state lines. Finally, Congress can regulate conduct that affects interstate commerce even though the conduct is purely intrastate. These jurisdictional grounds were recently outlined by the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals in the 2002 case United States v. Ballinger, which found that federal jurisdiction included prosecution of a church arson because the defendant’s activity of traveling state-to-state was activity in interstate commerce, making it subject to Congressional regulation.

Minimal nexus with interstate commerce

Federal crimes prosecuted under the jurisdiction of affecting commerce do not have to show much nexus to interstate commerce. For example a convicted felon may be prosecuted for possessing a gun merely by proving the firearm was made in another state and crossed state lines. The prosecution does not have to prove how or when it happened. Merely showing the firearm is found in a state other than the state where it was made will be sufficient. In a child pornography prosecution of U.S. v. Maxwell, federal jurisdiction was found where the only interstate commerce nexus was proof that the disk containing the images had been transported in interstate commerce prior to the time the images were copied on to the disk.

Many federal crimes involve a federal funds or federal agencies. Theft of federal property, income tax fraud, printing counterfeit currency and false statement to a federal agency are a few examples. Mortgage fraud could have federal jurisdiction because false statements are made to a financial institution that is insured by the federal government.

White collar crimes are most often prosecuted in federal court. Federal white collar crimes are often committed when false statements are made through the mail or false statements cause money to be transferred by wire. This can be the basis of the federal wire fraud or mail fraud statutes. Drug offenses may be prosecuted in state court or federal court. Federal jurisdiction covers drugs imported from outside the country as well as drug distribution that takes place within one state.

Federal and state offenses are both serious that require the highest quality legal representation. Ken Swartz is a Miami criminal defense lawyer who is a Florida Board Certified expert in criminal trial law with many years of experience in representing persons charged with these types of offenses.

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