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Federal criminal realm: a unique and complex sphere

There is of course a long-established and well-entrenched criminal justice system operative in central Kentucky, the Commonwealth and across the United States.

In fact, there are two of them.

Many people don’t automatically think of that when considering a criminal law matter or perhaps being directly involved in one. A court is a court, right?

Not exactly. Legions of defendants facing allegations of wrongdoing find out quickly that there are two parallel yet sometimes interacting justice spheres in the country.

Namely, those are crimes and courts dealing with criminal misconduct at the state and federal levels, respectively.

Those are two quite distinct and even vastly different domains. And it is the case that many – indeed, most – criminal defense attorneys are not equally well versed in both realms.

A summary comparison of state vs. federal crime matters

An individual charged with a crime who is headed to trial will most likely end up in a state court. An online legal overview of state and federal courts duly notes that the likelihood of an appearance before a state judge is about 30 times greater than a defendant’s prospect of appearing in federal court.

That drives this reasonable conclusion: Most people quickly think of state tribunals where a criminal law matter is concerned. The above-cited source stresses that, “State courts handle by far the larger number of cases, and have more contact with the public than federal courts do.”

That logically means that most conduct adjudged as crime is deemed a state offense. Common examples range from murder, robbery and traffic violations to theft, drug charges, domestic violence and more.

Many attorneys routinely defend clients against state law charges, but it is far less common for a criminal defense lawyer to command acumen and proven experience in the federal crimes sphere.

Some considerations centrally relevant to federal crimes

Many criminal law commentators and experts stress that the federal justice system is a more complex and nuanced realm than its state-centric counterpart.

A number of factors support that view, including these:

  • Federal law preempts state law on matters deemed of national interest
  • Complicated constitutional issues/questions are matters of concern for federal courts
  • Federal courts often share jurisdiction with state tribunals
  • Federal jurisdiction attaches when a legal matter involves issues affecting more than one state

The bottom line: Federal cases involving matters ranging from alleged terrorism and select drug crimes to many white collar offenses and other misconduct are often high-profile and complex affairs that command the keen interest of investigators and prosecutors.

Again, not all defense attorneys have a deep working knowledge of federal criminal law and representation. Any person charged with a federal crime will want to be sure that his or her selected legal counsel does.