What Makes A Crime Federal?


Getting in trouble with the law is never fun. Whether you are being charged with committing a federal crime or not, it can be daunting to understand what all a federal crime entails.

What makes a crime federal? To be considered a federal crime, a criminal act must be illegal under U.S. federal law, which is made by Congress, or it must take place on federal property.

What all happens during a federal crime? What are the differences between federal and state criminal charges? What are some examples of federal crimes? What do you do if you’ve been charged? Find out the answers to your questions here.

How A Federal Crime Works

Federal crimes are very serious, and law enforcement agencies are able to take serious action during an investigation. Federal agents can do everything from wiretap your phone to reading your text messages, and they can obtain court orders and subpoenas to look through bank records and social media records. Those under investigation may have been under surveillance for months or even years and can be interrogated at any time by the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, or other law enforcement agencies.

Once enough evidence has been gathered, a prosecutor meets with a federal grand jury, who are impartial citizens that live in the court’s jurisdiction. If the prosecutor convinces them that a probable cause exists, they can indict or charge the person.

There are specific steps that are taken in the federal criminal process. They are:

  • Investigation
  • Charging
  • Initial hearing
  • Discovery
  • Plea bargaining
  • Preliminary hearing (if going to trial)
  • Pre-trial motions
  • Trial
  • Post-trial motions
  • Sentencing
  • Appeal

In most cases, the defendant will plead guilty and not even go to trial. They then usually receive a plea bargain, which can be leniency, a reduced charge, or a reduced sentence. The sentence depends on the crime, the level of offense, and the defendant’s criminal history, and the severity of sentencing varies greatly. Defendants could pay a fine or restitution to the victim(s) of the crime, or they could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Federal Vs. State Criminal Charges

There are many differences in how federal criminal charges are handled versus state criminal charges. For example, they are handled at different courts. For misdemeanors and the initial phases of felonies, Municipal Courts are in charge, and state courts also include Superior Courts. For federal crimes, the Federal Trial Court is the U.S. District Court.

If a crime occurs within a particular state’s boundaries, violating the state laws, the state will have the power to prosecute. It is most common for the defendant to be prosecuted at a state level for federal crimes against a person or property, such as cases of murder, assault, and robbery. If a crime occurs on federal property, federal agents will have the power to investigate and prosecute. Sometimes, crimes violate both state and federal law, leaving both free to charge the defendant.

As far as the process and system go, the State system is much clearer and defined, where punishment ranges are readily ascertainable. The federal system, on the other hand, is complex, convoluted, and confusing.

Learn more about the differences in court structure, the selection of judges, and the types of cases heard in state versus federal courts.

Examples Of Federal Crimes

Many federal crimes are listed under Title 18 of the United States Code, although there are hundreds of categories that violations fall under. Common federal crimes include:

How To Handle A Federal Charge

If you’ve been accused of a federal crime, it is important to realize that your case can greatly affect your future. Since the federal criminal process is highly confusing and complex, it is best to hire an experienced Houston federal defense attorney to help. Being former prosecutors allows Vinas & Graham, PLLC to help you get the best outcome for your case.

If you’re ready to get your case in the right hands, call (713) 229-9992 now or like Vinas & Graham, PLLC  on Facebook to stay in touch!