Any time you are arrested and charged with a crime, it’s serious. At the same time, the type of charges against you can greatly affect your strategy for dealing with them. For example, you and your defense attorney would not treat a misdemeanor DWI charge the same way you would a charge of DWI manslaughter.

One of the most important things you need to know when you have been charged is if the charges are state or federal. Both New York State and the federal criminal code can apply to your actions. Depending on several factors, such as the severity of your alleged crime and if it took place in more than one state, you could be charged with a federal crime instead of at the state level.

What is the difference?

Maybe the most critical difference between state and federal charges is the potential sentence after a guilty plea or conviction. Unlike in state law, federal law has no misdemeanors. Every charge carries the possibility of prison time. Long sentences and other heavy penalties mean that even more is at stake if you are charged at the federal level.

Jurisdiction and the courts

From a defense attorney’s perspective, federal criminal court procedures differ in some ways from the rules used in state-level court. Not every criminal defense lawyer represents clients in federal court, and they may not be familiar with the rules of procedure. Besides procedural matters, an issue that often comes up in federal cases is jurisdiction. Jurisdiction refers to a court’s power over an individual. Federal courts only have jurisdiction in some cases. Defense attorneys often make the case that their client’s case belongs in state court rather than federal court. If successful, a move from federal to state charges can significantly reduce the severity of the potential sentence and improve the defendant’s chances of a successful outcome.

From a defendant’s perspective, it may not seem to make much difference at first if you are charged under state or federal law. But you will quickly find out that this can make a big difference in your case.