What is the Difference between State and Federal Criminal Offenses

There is not a significant difference in the types of State and Federal criminal offenses. It’s usually just a matter of whether the crime affected interstate commerce. Federal laws include drug offenses, violent offenses like robbery, fraud and theft offenses and many others that are also commonly prosecuted in State Court. The big difference is not the types of crimes but how they are prosecuted and the possible penalties.

Both State and Federal criminal offenses have what are called minimum mandatory sentences for certain types of crimes meaning that it most circumstances the Judge is not permitted to give a Defendant any less prison time than what the law mandates. In other words, Congress or the Legislature has taken away the ability of the Judge to be a Judge and the Judge must impose a sentence that is no lower than the law allows.

Both State and Federal offenses also have Sentencing Guidelines which are ranges of sentences based on the severity of the crime, your prior record and sometimes your role in the offense. In Florida the Sentencing Guidelines are mandatory meaning the Judge cannot deviate from them unless you have a PLEA AGREEMENT with the State or you qualify for some limited exception set forth in the law. In Florida they are also based on a mathematical formula which is fairly straightforward.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines on the other hand are extremely complex. Never hire an attorney who is not experienced in Federal Court and who has no understanding of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. They are heavily geared towards prison sentences in the majority of cases and have several different adjustments based on the crime that could make your sentence higher or lower than your original guideline.

It is not just a simple mathematical formula. The calculation of how much time in prison you may be looking at is based on a fact intensive analysis that involves enhancing or lowering your sentence. The good thing is that they are not mandatory like in State court. They are advisory to the court meaning the court may choose to give you a lower sentence if your lawyer successfully argues that certain factors in the law outside the guidelines warrant a sentence below the guidelines.

It is extremely important that you consult with and hire a Federal Criminal Lawyer if you have a Federal criminal charge. Every Federal lawyer is experienced in State court. Only about 15% of lawyers are experienced or even admitted to Federal Court.

Written by

Ray Lopez has practiced since 1990, with prior experience as a Hillsborough County assistant State attorney and lawyer for the Tampa Police Department. He handles all criminal charges, from traffic violations and misdemeanors to serious felonies and federal drug charges. He practices in all state and federal courts of the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida, as well as criminal appeals, juvenile court, administrative hearings, and civil forfeiture proceedings.

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