3 differences between state and federal crimes

Recently, Minnesota man negotiated a plea deal with federal prosecutors regarding an illegal gambling business he conducted. According to the Seattle PI, the man made approximately $600,000 a year for four years for taking roughly $10 million a year from wagers who would bet on sports activities. He was initially charged with three counts, including conducting a sports betting business. As a Minnesota crime defense lawyer may advise, the man pled guilty to lesser charges of money laundering and transmitting wager information.

Gambling is one area of potential criminal activity that can be tried on either a state or a federal basis. There are several ways prosecutors determine how to press charges, and there are key differences between which court will be used:

  1. The laws that are broken

Under the U.S. Constitution, states may govern themselves and set their own laws. State courts typically have a broad jurisdiction and hear cases that citizens acting alone are most likely to commit, such as a traffic violation or robbery. Federal courts are more limited to the cases they will hear, such as matters in with the U.S. government is a party or a federal law was broken. In some areas, the federal government is the only entity that can prosecute a certain kind of crime, such as copyright and antitrust matters.

  1. Where the crime occurred

An act is typically considered a state crime and prosecuted accordingly when it happens within the state’s boundaries. However, there are a few factors that will elevate the activity to the federal level, such as the following:

  • If the crime occurs on federal property
  • If the crime involves crossing state lines
  • If the crime involves international activity

A crime that involves maritime activity will also typically be handled in a federal court.

  1. Sentencing guidelines

As any Minnesota crime defense lawyer knows, federal sentencing guidelines are nearly always much more strict that those imposed in state court. The American Bar Association points out that the gap in penalties is especially evident in crimes concerning drugs or firearms.

States often have their own set of guidelines. Minnesota, for example, follows a standard sentencing grid that takes into account the type of crime and the defendant’s criminal history. Judges in state courts are often given some flexibility when handing down penalties. Federal judges, on the other hand, must follow the U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual, which issues mandatory minimum sentences for a federal crime. Critics of the mandatory minimums point out that they prevent judges from catering a punishment to fit the crime.

Anyone who has questions about the differences between state and federal crimes should consult with a Minnesota crime defense lawyer.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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