Experienced. Dedicated. Trusted.

What is the Difference Between a State and Federal Crime?

Most crimes that occur in Georgia are state crimes, but you can be charged with a federal crime if the alleged crime takes place on federal land, targets a federal employee, or involves interstate travel, transport, or communications.

You probably heard the names of famous legal cases in history class or civics class; for example, you may have studied cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, or Miranda v. Arizona, since the Supreme Court decisions on these cases had effects on society that were noticeable by the general population. Have you ever wondered how legal cases get their names? In a civil lawsuit, the case is called Plaintiff’s Name v. Defendant’s Name since the parties are individuals, companies, or government entities. In criminal cases prosecuted at the state level, the case is called State’s Name v. Defendant’s Name, but criminal cases prosecuted in federal court are called United States v. Defendant’s Name. State criminal cases differ from federal cases in several important ways. The Atlanta criminal defense lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam can help you understand all the laws that apply to your case so that you can make the best decisions.

Elements of a Federal Crime

The default assumption is that a crime that happens in Georgia is a state crime. States have considerable flexibility to make their own laws, and if you break one of them, you can be charged with a state crime. If Georgia legislators decide that littering peach pits is a criminal misdemeanor, then you can face criminal charges in state court if a police officer sees you dropping a peach pit on the sidewalk. This could never be a federal case because you have not violated federal law. While most federal crimes are felonies, it is not the severity of the crime that determines whether it goes to state or federal court; most murder cases are state cases. A crime is a federal offense if it fits one of the following criteria:

  • The crime takes place on federal land, including but not limited to government buildings and tribal lands
  • The alleged victim is a federal employee
  • It is a financial crime that causes a federal entity to lose money, such as Medicare fraud, federal tax fraud, or Paycheck Protection Program fraud
  • The defendant crossed state lines as part of the alleged crime
  • The conspirators to the crime were in different states and communicated online or by phone to commit the crime

How are Federal Cases Different From State Cases?

Investigations of federal crimes involve federal agencies, such as the FBI and DEA, whereas county sheriffs and local police departments investigate state crimes. Likewise, convicted defendants who receive prison sentences go to federal prison if convicted in federal court, but they go to state prison for state-level felonies and county jail for state-level misdemeanors.

Contact an Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyer

A criminal defense lawyer can help you if you are facing criminal charges at the federal or state level. Contact the defense lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam in Atlanta, Georgia about juvenile cases.