Those who face criminal charges must deal with a tangle of often confusing procedures and rules. At this time, you need a reliable attorney at your side who can keep you informed while working vigorously to defend your case.
One important issue relates to whether the charges in question will proceed in state court, federal court or both. Federal and state criminal statutes often overlap, containing very similar elements. Factors such as the location, type and complexity of the crime determine whether jurisdiction will be state, federal or concurrent.
Federal charges may ensue if the crime is committed on federal land or against a federal officer. You may also face charges in federal court if the alleged crime crosses state or national lines, or violates a specific federal statute. Some common examples include interstate drug or weapons trafficking or violations of federal statutes concerning matters such as insider trading.
You can face two trials based on the same event
Sometimes, both state and federal laws become implicated and trigger concurrent jurisdiction. This can mean two criminal trials: one in federal court and one in state. Each can have a different outcome.
Why federal charges can be more difficult
Federal charges often tend to be more complex and involve harsher penalties. You are more likely to face federal charges if you are being accused of crossing state lines or of participating in a far-reaching criminal organization or conspiracy. Allegations of health care fraud, violation of banking regulations or investment fraud also often involve federal charges.
In the case of serious charges, you may face grand jury proceedings in the federal court. This is a closed proceeding wherein a jury of 16-23 people hears evidence to determine whether you should be indicted. The normal rules of evidence may not apply; evidence and testimony are confidential. While a jury's refusal to indict makes it less likely the prosecutor will file charges, he or she may be able to proceed with charges even without an indictment.
Knowledge of federal defense is essential
Federal criminal court procedures and rules often differ substantially from those prevalent in state court, especially with regard to matters such as deadlines and prescribed forms for filings and motion practice. For this reason, it is important that your defense attorney be thoroughly familiar with handling federal cases. Even a seemingly small error can significantly damage your defense.