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Differences Between Federal And State Criminal Cases

The Major Differences Between A Federal Case And A State Criminal Case

The first significant difference between a federal and a state criminal case are the tremendous differences in the resources. The Feds have a tremendous workforce, money, technology, and support.

The second significant difference is that federal criminal cases tend to be more formal. Judges expect lawyers to adhere strictly to the many procedural rules in federal criminal cases.

These procedural rules are lengthy, nuanced, and detailed. Therefore, Judges expect things to be more formal in federal criminal cases, and expect a higher level of practice from the lawyers in front of them. Thus, things like oral motions are not done – Judges expect everything to be in writing, and adequately briefed in a federal criminal case. Most federal courts even have stringent pleading rules about what size font a brief must be in, and how many words or characters are allowed in that brief. Also, any brief submitted must have any footnotes formatted. Finally, many federal courts even have a rule that requires a lawyer to contact the other side to ask them if they agree or stipulate to the relief you request. All this must happen before even filing a motion.

These protocols and stipulations are theoretically designed to make federal criminal cases move faster than state cases. However, these rules frequently have the opposite effect. Federal criminal cases almost always take more time to go through the system than their state counterparts, tend to be more complex, and have more pre-trial and evidentiary issues.

In addition, the sentencing guidelines are higher in most federal criminal cases than in an equivalent state crime. The infamous guidelines in federal cases are far more complicated than any state guideline system by a significant margin. The procedures for federal sentencing guidelines are more formalistic, more complex, more challenging to understand, and more draconian.

For the most part, federal criminal cases result in higher, longer sentences than state offenses or longer sentences than the same offense in a state case. As a result, Federal cases tend to go to trial less often than state cases, and there are two reasons for that: (a) the resources possessed by fedwral law enforcement; and (b) the significant impact of the federal sentencing guidelines.

The first is that the workforce, resources, and technology available to federal investigations make their cases difficult to disprove and, in turn, exceedingly difficult to win. A federal criminal defense lawyer must look for holes or flaws in a federal criminal investigation and prosecution. If the feds find something bad about the defendant, they will make sure it appears as evidence against your client in court.

The federal case guidelines are the second reason federal criminal cases go to trial less often than state criminal cases. When evaluating the sentence length that results from a negotiated Rule 11 Plea Agreement in federal court, going to trial and losing can sometimes double your sentencing exposure. So because a 5-year sentence becomes 10, or 10 becomes 20 (or longer), federal criminal practitioners become conservative (and frequently even cautious) when evaluating a case in whether it can be defended at trial. The consequences of losing become so extreme and catastrophic that it tends to result in a situation where only cases with a strong defense are taken to trial.

Sometimes, the United States Attorney handling the prosecution may not extend a reasonable plea offer. In that case, the defendant may have nothing to lose by going to trial. Alternatively, there may be some collateral reason why the defendant must take a case to trial (and win), such as they’re a doctor who can’t lose their license to practice medicine, or the defendant is not a citizen (say a green card holder), and any conviction would result in deportation.

Many federal criminal offenses have a 5, 10, or 20-year mandatory minimum, which requires a judge to sentence a defendant to no lower than that minimum. It is hard to plead guilty in those instances, so that can be another compelling reason to take a federal criminal case to trial.

How A Federal Investigation Usually Begins

Federal criminal investigations begin like any investigation. First, federal law enforcement learns of information that they believe warrants or deserves an investigation, so an investigation begins.

The one nuance in federal criminal cases is that they have a much higher rate of cooperation, tips, and information coming from other defendants than in state cases. Those criminal defendants cooperate with the government and try to better their position by giving information to federal law enforcement. An informant’s tip frequently sparks a new investigation. As a result, federal investigators will often involve the participation of a prosecutor far earlier in the process than most state investigations.

Federal criminal investigations are far more complex and tend to be larger, with most having more than one defendant; a multi-defendant, multi-targeted investigation is much more common. Federal criminal investigations take longer to complete because there are so many different investigative leads and trails to walk down and evaluate.

The People Involved In A Federal Case

Also, federal investigations usually involve a team of law enforcement officers working on a case. Because so many people and experts are involved in investigating federal criminal cases, they tend to take longer, be more involved, and be more substantive. As a result, it’s common for a federal investigation to take months, if not longer, to go from beginning to end.

With the guidance of a skilled attorney for Criminal Law Cases, you can have peace of mind knowing that your rights are defended, and your future protected. A free initial consultation is your next step for more information on the Differences Between Federal And State Criminal Cases. Get the information and legal answers you seek by calling today at (248) 509-0056.

Mark Satawa

Call Today For Your Free Case Strategy Session
(248) 509-0056