State Crimes vs. Federal Crimes (Part A)

There are 3 differences that must be considered when determining how state crimes versus federal crimes are handled.

The 3 main differences between state and federal court cases are: 

  • What type of case is heard;
  • How the case proceeds; and
  • Penalties and sentencing. 

What Types of Cases are Heard 

Crimes can be divided by type into either state or federal, based on where they took place. Generally speaking, if criminal activity took place in more than 1 state then the federal courts will hear it. If the activity was localized within one state then jurisdiction will be held in the county where it took place unless the crime involves a federally run service, like the IRS or United States Postal Service.

Some examples of crimes that federal courts hear: 

  • IRS violations;
  • Mail fraud and damaging mailboxes;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Counterfeiting;
  • Immigration offenses; and
  • Terrorism charges. 

Crimes that state courts hear: 

  • Traffic violations;
  • Parole violations;
  • Drug possession;
  • Rape; and
  • Assault and battery. 

If there is a question as to whether a crime was committed in solely one state or if the federal courts have rule over it, the decision is turned over to the federal court system. This is called the “Supremacy Clause.”

In general, the bulk of crimes are heard by state courts. Every state has at least one and probably more than one criminal court system. For example, minors are tried in juvenile court and adults are usually tried in trial courts.

If you were accused of a crime and it is heard in a state court then the case will be brought against you on behalf of the people of the state by either the state attorney or the district attorney.

Continue to Part B >>