Key Differences Between Federal and State Courts

There are two kinds of courts in the United States – federal courts and state courts. State courts are established by the individual states, while federal courts are established under the United States Constitution.

The major difference between federal and state courts is their jurisdiction. Jurisdiction refers to the types of cases the two types of courts are authorized to hear.

Most criminal cases are tried at the state level, but they are not allowed to hear lawsuits against the United States and those involving specific federal laws, such as crimes committed on federal lands (national parks and Native American reservations), crimes where the accused cross state lines, and immigration. Cases like those are handled within the federal court system.

difference between federal and state crimes

Difference Between Federal and State Crimes Prosecution Procedure

One major difference is how judges are seated. Federal judges are appointed for life by the president, while state judges are elected or appointed by the governor.

Federal crimes are investigated by federal officers like the FBI or DEA and prosecuted by United States Attorneys. State crimes are investigated by sheriffs, state organizations, or local police officers, and prosecuted by state district attorneys or city attorneys.

Although not a common occurrence, it’s possible to be prosecuted for one crime at both the state and federal level if the crime violates both state and federal law. Double Jeopardy doesn’t protect the accused here because state and federal courts are separate, sovereign entities. It would be possible to be acquitted at the state level, then convicted at the federal level.

Difference Between Federal and State Crimes Punishment

In general, federal penalties are longer than state penalties for similar crimes. One major example of this is drug crimes. Federal drug crimes typically come with harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

If you’re charged with a federal or state crime, you should talk to an attorney right away. For federal crimes, you want an attorney with significant experience representing people in federal court, as the rules that apply are very different.

Sally Goodman has over 30 years of experience defending clients at the state and federal level. Have you been accused of a crime? Call today to get started on your defense right away.