If you are charged with a crime in Illinois, it is crucial to understand the charges against you and what the next few months will look like in and out of the courtroom.
One of the most important things to know is whether you face state or federal charges. While the overall processes have a number of similarities, there are several distinct differences, including unique penalties and the likelihood that the prosecution will have access to a lot more evidence to use against you in federal court.
Want to understand federal crimes and the federal criminal process better? Read on.
Important Things to Understand about the Federal Criminal Process
When are crimes “federal” crimes?
Any case that is of particular interest to the federal government can be brought to federal court. Usually, however, federal crimes are defined as the following:
- Crimes that cross state lines: If, for example, an adult attempts to solicit a minor in a different state over the internet, the crime will be considered a federal offense.
- Crimes that involve federal organizations: Federal organizations include the FBI, CIA, IRS, and so on. For example, if you are accused of mail fraud, the crime will most likely involve the U.S. Postal Service, and the case will be brought to a federal court.
What is the difference between a federal and state case?
There are a number of differences between federal and state courts, but in general it boils down to the increased ability that federal courts have to prosecute a defendant. Specific differences include:
- More resources: If a federal case concerns the FBI, CIA, DEA, IRS, or another similar organization, these groups will get involved. These agencies have a lot of power, and can gather quite a bit of evidence against you. To put things in perspective, evidence in a state case may end up filling up a folder or two, while the evidence for a single federal case can fill up multiple filing cabinets.
- Different courts: State and federal courts are separate, and have separate chains of command. For example, while the highest court is called the Supreme Court, there is a difference between the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Illinois Supreme Court. A different process is also used to select judges for federal court versus state court.
- Parole: If you are convicted in a state court, you may be counting down to the date on which you are eligible for parole. If you are convicted in a federal court, however, you won’t be so lucky. Parole is not available in the federal system, although you may receive time off of your sentence for good behavior.
Other than these main differences, the arraignment, discovery, and trial process are essentially the same.
What about penalties?
Each state has different penalties and sentencing guidelines if you are convicted. Federal penalties are separate from these. Federal penalties are often harsher than state penalties for the same crime, but not always.
One thing to note is the sentencing guidelines for federal drug crimes. If you are convicted of specific drug crimes in a federal court, you will face mandatory minimum jail sentences. This could range from a few years to a few decades, depending on the crime and the length of your criminal history.
Do I need a special lawyer for a federal crime?
Because federal crimes are tried in separate courts, lawyers must be admitted to practice law in those courts. Many lawyers who have been admitted to practice law in state or local cases can take on a federal case, but not all.
When you speak with a criminal defense lawyer, there are several things to seek out. Be sure to ask about their experience as a federal crimes lawyer, as well as the area of the law in which you are facing charges.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.