Federal vs State: Who Reigns Supreme?

by Stacy Aspen on November 7, 2013

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(U.S. Criminal Defense law and generally) Most people know that there is a difference between Federal laws and state laws. However, most people do not know exactly what the difference is, and how these laws apply to them. There is a very basic distinction between Federal and state laws, and which laws apply will depend on the type of offense that has been committed.

Federal Laws

Federal laws are laws that apply to all people in the country, regardless of the state in which they live. These laws govern:

• Bankruptcy
• Civil Rights
• Social Security
• Immigration laws
• Copyright and patent laws
• Federal crimes such as counterfeiting and tax fraud or evasion
• Intrastate crimes (crimes that cross state borders) such as drug trafficking and kidnapping*

*Any crime that involves an act that crosses any state line or U.S. border becomes a Federal crime.

State Laws

Each state has the authority to enact laws and punishments. These laws are only valid with the borders of the state. These laws include:

• Family law
• Criminal laws
• Wills and estates
• Driving related laws
• Personal injury laws
• Commercial business law
• Contract law Juvenile laws
• Workers compensation laws
• Real estate and property law
• Public assistance and Medicaid laws

Distinction Of Who Prosecutes A Crime

The Federal laws can only be applied to acts that violate Federal laws. A Federal prosecutor cannot charge someone in a federal court for a fraudulent contact between neighboring businesses. However, the prosecutor could press charges if those businesses were located in two separate states because intrastate laws apply.

Federal prosecutors must make sure that any crime that they are charging a person with meets all the guidelines of a Federal crime before charging the accused. Failing to do so will lead to an immediate dismissal of the case.

What To Do If Charged With A Federal Crime

If you have been arrested and charged with a Federal crime, the first thing that you must do is find an attorney who is experienced in Federal criminal cases. While a regular criminal attorney may be able to help, you really will want one that is experienced in Federal cases. According to Katz & Phillips, when charged with a Federal crime, “you are facing some of the greatest minds that the United States Government has to offer” and need representation accordingly.

A Federal case has different Rules of Procedure than a state level court case. This means that even the simplest mess-up in procedure could negatively impact your case. You need an attorney that knows the rules and understand how the Federal court system works.

You also want an experienced lawyer who understands Federal laws and their punishments. These laws, and the accompanying punishments, will be very different than state laws. You want to make sure that your attorney is fully aware of the laws and how to properly defend you.

Most cases that fall under Federal jurisdiction are considered very serious. The government was designed to allow individual states to handle most legal issues but there are some charges, according to Orlando Criminal Team Katz & Phillips, that require special licensing and a higher level of experience. Federal laws are designed for the “good of all,” so when there is a charge in Federal court, it is seen very serious because the outcome of the case will impact everyone in the country.


Stacy Aspen

Stacy Aspen

Stacy Aspen has been a legal writer since 2008, assisting lawyers with articles, research papers, web copy and blog posts. Stacy has a BA in creative writing and also enjoys writing poetry in her spare time.

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