A federal offense is a crime that breaks federal legal code. You may be curious what falls under federal crimes when you have been involved in any sort of criminal incident. The truth is, the range varies given the situation, but includes mail fraud, identity theft, drug trafficking, gun licensing violations, and immigration fraud. If a federal offense makes it to trial, expect for it to be prosecuted by the United States Attorney rather than a state or district attorney. This is how federal offenses vary from state offenses.
In comparison to state offenses, there are fewer classes of federal crimes. This is due to the fact that federal lawmakers are permitted to only pass laws where there is some federal or national interest at stake. This varies from state offenses because state lawmakers can pass just about any law they choose to as long as it is constitutional. An example of this is the fact that counterfeiting is known as a federal crime because it is the federal government’s duty to print money. What crimes do the federal government actually have jurisdiction over?
- Crimes that Take Place on Federal Land or Involve Federal Officers: This can include a murder in a national forest or on an Indian reservation. It could also include a theft on a military base or an assault against a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent.
- Crimes Where the Defendant Crosses State Lines: This would apply to a situation where a person takes a kidnapping victim from one state to another.
- Crimes Where the Criminal Conduct Crosses State Lines: An example of this includes an Internet fraud scheme that has victims and perpetrators in multiple states.
- Immigration and Customs Violations: This could include importing child pornography or international human trafficking.
Well-Known, Large Federal Offense Case
In 1997, the U.S. came up with a way to prevent chemical warfare by ratifying the International Convention on Chemical Weapons. The next year, Congress enacted a law in its honor known as 18 U.S.C. 229 (a) to prohibit the possession or use of “any chemical weapon” as it came to be known. In the years to come, a woman attempted to spread toxic substances on another woman’s car door, mailbox, and doorknob. Federal prosecutors attempted to use the enacted law due to the fact that her toxic substances caused the victim a minor thumb burn. However, the chemical weapon law was designed for chemical warfare rather than simple assault – therefore, prosecutors couldn’t use it against the defendant in question.
Punishment for Federal Offenses
Penalties for federal crimes may vary, but you should always be aware of them if you are part of a case that involves them. The vast majority of federal judges will follow federal sentencing guidelines when they are sentencing defendants. It is true that, in most cases, federal penalties will be longer than state penalties for similar crimes. Federal drug crimes can typically carry harsh mandatory minimum sentences and will land an offender in federal prison.
What Happens When Someone is Charged With Committing a Federal Crime?
- A complaint and arrest warrant is obtained by law enforcement for the alleged offender. This is filed with the Federal District Court.
- Then, an initial appearance is made before a Magistrate Judge. They advise the accused of his or her rights and makes a determination on whether or not they can hire an attorney or if they should speak to a public defender.
- A detention hearing takes place within three working days if the offender is detained. The Magistrate Judge will listen to evidence about the accused’s risk of flight or danger to a community.
- At the preliminary hearing, an Assistant U.S. Attorney will offer testimony to establish probable cause and present witnesses. If there was probable cause, further proceedings will be bound to the grand jury.
- The Grand Jury will make a final decision to prosecute.
- An indictment is sought through the use of calling witnesses and presenting evidence gathered by law enforcement officers.
- The indictment is returned if a grand jury decides the evidence presented establishes probable cause. However, at least 12 jurors must vote to indict.
- Arraignment occurs before a Magistrate Judge. The accused is read charges against him or her and advised of their rights. They will enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. The defendant will have the right to trail within 70 days from his or her initial appearance in Federal District Court.
- The Plea Agreement must be reached between the Assistant U.S. Attorney and the defense attorney. The terms of the Plea Agreement must be approved as well.
- Trial occurs, where witnesses are called and evidence is presented. If the defendant is found not guilty, they are released. If they are convicted, the pre-sentencing process begins.
- Pre-Sentencing involves a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report that involves information being presented about the defendant.
- The Federal District Court Judge will impose Sentencing approximately 8 weeks after the entry of a guilty plea or a finding of guilt at trial. Incarceration to a federal prison, probation, or a monetary fine may be imposed.
- The defendant, from there, can appeal the finding of guilt with a Notice of Appeal (Neronha).
Now that you have learned a bit about federal offenses, you can grasp a better understanding of the unique process that surrounds the crimes. If you have any questions regarding your own particular case, you can contact an experienced attorney that can guide you through the process. At The Blair Law Firm, we have the experience to fit your needs!