Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes

Getting into legal trouble or situations is never pleasant; however, it may be something you need to deal with. If you’re not familiar with the legal system and you find yourself in need of a lawyer, it’s a good idea to know exactly what type of lawyer you need. There are different steps to take if you are charged with a crime, and this will all depend on the crime itself.

In the United States, crimes are broken down into two main categories: federal crimes and state crimes. The information below details the difference between federal and state crimes.

State Crimes

State crimes are broader in nature and usually include those performed by individual citizens. Every state has a list of its own laws, and if you are found to break one of those laws, then you will be charged with a state crime. For example, traffic violations, robbery, broken contracts, family disputes, etc. will all be considered state crimes, as every state in the United States has its own set of laws regarding these issues. What could be considered a traffic violation in Illinois may be perfectly legal in Indiana, and vice versa, which is why the state handles these cases.

State crimes are handled by the state court system. For example, if you are charged with robbery, you will go to court in your state, and your trial will be handled by the state court system. Again, because states have their own laws, the punishment if convicted will vary. For example, the punishment handed down for a crime in California may be entirely different than that given to someone who committed the same crime in Oregon.

If you are ever charged with a state crime, it’s a good idea to find a lawyer who is experienced with that specific crime in your specific state.

Federal Crimes

Federal crimes don’t include as big of a list as state crimes, and since they are federal crimes, they don’t vary by location. Federal crimes are considered those that break the laws listed in the Constitution. For example, copyright and patent disputes or cases that violate the US Constitution would be considered federal crimes, such as tampering with US mail or bringing drugs into the country.

Federal crimes are handled in the federal court system, which means if you are charged with a federal crime, you will want to consult with a federal crime attorney to help you with your case. So if you are charged with tampering with the US mail or committing a crime on federal property, you will go to a federal court, and the federal court system will try your case (and, if applicable, decide your punishment).

Because federal crimes are so limited, there are less federal crime trials compared to state crime trials. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s easier to get away with a federal crime.


If you are convicted of a state or federal crime, you will receive your sentence. This will depend on many factors, including the severity of the crime as well as your history with the legal system. So, for example, if you were caught with drugs and this is your first time offense, you will likely experience a lesser punishment than someone caught with the same amount of drugs, but for the third or fourth time.

If your punishment includes jail time, your location will be determined by the crime. For example, if you are convicted by the state system, then you will serve your sentence in a state prison. If you are convicted of a federal crime, then you will serve your sentence in a federal prison.

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