Will My Case Be Federal Or State?

courtroom with a microphone

Every criminal case is unique, and the facts and circumstances surrounding yours will impact whether it will be prosecuted by federal authorities or state or local prosecutors.

Determining whether a case falls under federal or state jurisdiction is sometimes straightforward. For instance, cases involving shoplifting or street-level drug sales typically fall under state jurisdiction. However, several factors influence whether federal prosecutors will handle a case. Generally, the federal government focuses on offenses that:

  • Directly threaten federal entities or agencies;
  • Take place on federal property;
  • Involve interstate or international connections; or
  • Fall under a catch-all category, which could include reasons such as requests from state authorities lacking resources, agreements with state prosecutors, or cases linked to broader investigations into major criminal operations or high-level offenders, among others.

In terms of how certain crimes are handled, the issue of interstate or international connections, meaning crimes that occur across state lines or international borders, is often one of the most important factors in a case. For example:

  • Drug Offenses – In cases where drug trafficking spans multiple districts or states, federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA often take over the investigation and subsequent prosecution. While some trafficking cases may fall under state jurisdiction, those involving smuggling or importation across international borders are typically prosecuted federally. The quantity of drugs involved is also a significant factor, though subjectivity can come into play.
  • White Collar Crimes – Fraudulent activities such as forgery and money laundering are commonly categorized as "white collar crimes" and are subject to specific criteria for federal prosecution. Offenses that extend across state lines or involve multiple states often require the resources of agencies like the IRS, SEC, or FBI. Similar to drug crimes, the scale of the operation and the amount of money involved are crucial factors. While U.S. Attorney's Offices may have varying thresholds for prosecuting white collar crimes, they typically handle cases involving losses of approximately $1 million or more. However, each case is unique.
  • Sexual Offenses – Federal prosecutors typically take on cases involving sex crimes when prohibited conduct crosses state borders. For instance, transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of a sex offense is more likely to be handled federally than crimes confined to a single state. Offenses related to child pornography present a variable jurisdictional landscape, with both state and federal authorities actively investigating and prosecuting offenders. The initiating agency and the scope of the alleged offense often dictate which jurisdiction handles the case.

Although each case is unique, it's essential to understand how state and federal prosecutors select the cases they pursue and whether there's a possibility for cases to be adjudicated in state courts instead of the federal criminal justice system which is known for its high conviction rates and harsh sentencing policies. Moreover, when facing investigations or prosecutions for federal crimes, it's imperative to promptly seek counsel from knowledgeable attorneys.

If you or a loved one is accused of a federal or state crime, contact Hartwig Law LLC at 330-899-4446 today and schedule a free consultation.

Share To: