Understanding the differences between state and federal crimes can be important when you are facing criminal charges. If you are charged with a state crime, that means you have been accused of violating one or more Texas laws. If you have been accused of a federal crime, you are accused of violating a specific federal law. Texas law enforcement investigates state-based crimes while federal government agencies like the DEA and FBI investigate federal crimes. In many cases, federal crimes carry heavier penalties than state crimes, but this is not always the case.

Grand Jury and Prosecution in Federal Court 

Bringing federal charges against the defendant is different from the process involved in the Texas criminal justice system. If you have been arrested for a federal crime, the prosecutor will take your case before a grand jury after you have been charged. The grand jury has between 16 and 23 people in it. Grand jury proceedings are private, and the jury will decide whether the federal government has enough evidence to take your case to a trial. The grand jury is not deciding whether you are guilty.

Should the grand jury decide to bring criminal charges against you, the next step in the process will be your initial hearing. You will appear before a magistrate who will inform you of the criminal charges against you. Next, you’ll go to your arraignment, where you can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you decide to plead not guilty, your case may go to trial. During the trial, your attorney will have the ability to provide evidence that you did not commit the crime with which you have been charged.


How Federal Sentencing Works

In 1984, Congress passed a Sentencing Reform Act that created a sentencing commission and guidelines. These guidelines provide specific sentences for nearly all federal crimes. They use a point system that rewards points based on the type of crime, how the crime was committed, and the offender’s background. For example, a defendant who has only one point per the guidelines can be sentenced to no more than six months in jail. On the other hand, if the defendant has a maximum of 43 points, he or she will receive a lifetime prison sentence.

The sentencing guidelines are advisory, not mandatory. In other words, federal judges can consult the manual, but they are not legally required to impose the sentence the manual calls for based on the crime. As a result, federal judges have considerable discretion when sentencing defendants who have been found guilty. Appellate courts can only overturn a trial judge’s sentencing of a defendant when an abuse of discretion has occurred. 

When certain circumstances have occurred during the commission of the crime, federal judges can use enhanced sentencing. An enhanced sentence carries a more serious jail sentence than a typical sentence. Federal judges cannot enhance a defendant’s sentence unless the offender has admitted that the facts give rise to the enhancement or that a jury decided that those facts are true.


Drug Crimes

There are many different types of federal crimes, but drug crimes are among the most commonly prosecuted at the federal level. In some cases, the FBI will investigate a suspect for a long time before arresting them and searching their property. In other cases, Texas law enforcement will work with the FBI to investigate drug crimes. Several different federal agencies work together to investigate drug crimes and bring charges against defendants. Many drug crime prosecutions involve drug trafficking, a crime that occurs when someone intends to sell drugs or move a large amount of drugs across state lines. When a drug crime involves moving large amounts of drugs across the border or manufacturing drugs, the federal government will typically get involved and bring federal charges.


Weapons Crimes

Weapons-based charges can be tried at the state and federal levels. In many cases, a defendant who faces drug charges at the federal level may also face weapons charges at the federal level. The crime of felon in possession of a firearm is one of the most commonly charged federal gun crimes. Under federal law, this crime is a class C felony that carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. If the defendant has a conviction for a violent crime or drug crime on his or her criminal record, the penalties will increase well beyond 10 years in prison.

Another common federal weapons crime is using a weapon to further a crime of violence or drug trafficking felony. Defendants convicted of this crime typically face consecutive mandatory minimum prison sentences. The defendant does not need to be holding a gun in his or her hand when arrested for a drug crime. Even if a gun is nearby when the trafficking occurs, the prosecution will probably add federal weapons charges to the drug charges. The federal government defines the word weapon broadly, and even ammunition can be considered a weapon.


White Collar Crimes

Some of the most well-known federal criminal charges involve white-collar crimes. White-collar crimes include fraud or financial crimes, and they are frequently non-violent crimes. White-collar crimes include all of the following:

  • Bank and check fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Forgery
  • Health Care fraud
  • Mail and wire fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Securities fraud
  • Mortgage fraud

Sometimes people assume that only serious criminals like Bernie Madoff will face white-collar criminal charges. On the contrary, every day, people can be charged with fraud by the federal government. For example, suppose someone forgets to pay his or her taxes for a few years. The taxpayer can face Federal criminal charges for tax evasion, which carries serious consequences. If you are convicted, you can face up to five years in federal prison.


Contact an Experienced Dallas/Ft. Worth Criminal Defense Lawyer

Suppose you or your loved one have been charged with a federal crime in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In that case, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side who understands how federal prosecutions work and will advocate aggressively for you. Contact the Law Offices of Steven Jumes today to schedule your free initial consultation.