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State vs. Federal Criminal Cases


When an individual is charged with a criminal offense, the case can be prosecuted in either state or federal court. Understanding the difference between the two is essential to navigate the legal system correctly. While both state and federal courts serve the purpose of addressing criminal matters, several distinct differences set them apart.

1. Jurisdiction:

One of the most significant differences between state and federal criminal cases is jurisdiction. The state court system has the authority to preside over most criminal cases, including misdemeanors and felonies that violate state law. On the other hand, federal jurisdiction is limited to criminal offenses that involve federal law or interstate commerce, including drug trafficking, white-collar crime, and federal government-related offenses.

2. Investigative Agencies:

State and federal criminal cases differ regarding the agencies responsible for the investigation. As a general rule, state agencies, such as the local police and sheriff, handle investigations related to state crime. On the other hand, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other federal agencies investigate federal crimes. Federal investigators have broader investigative authority and often more manpower and resources when investigating a case.

3. Sentencing Guidelines:

Another key difference between state and federal criminal cases is the sentencing guidelines. Federal crimes typically carry more significant fines and extended prison sentences than state convictions. Federal judges must follow mandatory sentencing guidelines, which are often more severe than those set by the state. Also, federal penalties typically don't include the possibility of parole.

4. Jury Selection:

State and federal criminal cases differ regarding the method of jury selection. In state court, the selection process is typically more informal, with both sides allowed to reject a certain number of potential jurors. In contrast, in federal court, jury selection is more structured, and the judge plays a more significant role. Additionally, a federal court has a more diverse jury pool, which can lead to a more diverse representation of jurors.

5. Appeals Process:

Finally, the appeals process for state and federal criminal cases also differs. In state court, the defendant can appeal to the next higher court in the state's judicial system. In federal court, the convicted person can appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the circuit in which the case was tried or directly to the Supreme Court, depending on the circumstances.

Criminal Defense Law Firm in Northwest Arkansas

At Norwood & Norwood, P.A., we specialize in handling both state and federal criminal cases. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in the nuances of each jurisdiction and can provide you with the guidance and representation you need. Contact us today at (479) 235-4600 to schedule a consultation and let us help you navigate the legal system with confidence.