How the state and federal legal systems function differently

| Apr 5, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Americans must abide by both state and federal laws. What one jurisdiction defines as a crime may not be one in the other. You may face either state or federal criminal charges depending on the laws you allegedly violated.

If you’re facing federal criminal charges, then you may feel completely lost. It can be helpful for you to learn more about the differences between the state and federal legal systems, their respective players and what to expect as your case moves toward trial.

Who writes these laws and sets the penalties for violating them?

New York legislators are responsible for defining what constitutes a crime in this state. They also determine the penalties. Federal legislators draft laws and establish penalties for violating them.

The penalties associated with a state conviction may not align with federal sentencing guidelines. Suspects may face both state and federal charges for the crimes they stand accused of.

How filing charges works

State prosecutors can charge a defendant with a crime without first presenting evidence in front of a grand jury. U.S. attorneys must always use these before charging a suspect with a federal offense. A defendant can waive their right to a grand jury, though.

Understanding the players

District attorneys or prosecutors generally file state cases, whereas U.S. attorneys file federal ones. Each jurisdiction also refers to the judges that preside over criminal matters differently. How each state refers to trial judges varies. However, district court judges hear most federal criminal cases. There are some instances in which federal magistrates hear preliminary matters, including pre-trial motions.

What to know if you’re facing federal charges

If you’re facing federal charges, it can feel daunting, to say the very least. You may think of all of the resources U.S. government officials have at their disposal and believe that you’ll never win going up against them. There’s some validity to this. There is hope, though, too. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of legal strategies that you can pursue.

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