Understanding Federal vs State Crime in Washington

One of the most important components of the American legal system is the idea of dual sovereignty. Essentially, the federal government wields power and the state governments wield power simultaneously. A criminal defendant can be tried and convicted for a crime by the federal government and then tried and convicted for the same crime by a state government. It is necessary for criminal defendants to understand this aspect of the criminal justice system so they can prepare the best defense available to them, which is why having a Seattle criminal defense attorney is critical.

Understanding the Legal Framework: State and Federal Jurisdictions

Federal jurisdiction is distinct from state jurisdiction in the American legal system. Jurisdiction refers to the power the court has to hear specific matters. Personal jurisdiction, for example, refers to the court’s power over the individual defendant in the case. Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the power the court has to hear a specific kind of case. 

Federal jurisdiction and state jurisdiction are both operative in some criminal matters. Bankruptcy law and immigration law are two areas that are exclusively federal, but this is not the case with criminal law. State statutes and federal statutes may both be relevant in a criminal prosecution. A state may assert jurisdiction in a federal case. However, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over Washington, D.C., national parks, and tribal territories. Criminal acts which occur in these areas are prosecuted exclusively by the federal government. 

 Differences in Law Enforcement: State Police vs. Federal Agencies

Federal agencies such as the FBI, the DEA, and the ATF often assist state and local agencies with criminal investigations in cases that cross state boundaries. Also, organized crime investigations typically involve federal agencies because these enterprises are international in scope. State agencies may investigate local crimes without the assistance of the federal agencies. 

Federal agencies work closely with other administrative agencies and divisions of the federal government, including the Department of Justice. Many federal agencies collaborate on multi-dimensional cases that involve numerous jurisdictions and criminal offenses. Often, these cases take years to prosecute. 

The Prosecution Process: State vs. Federal Courts

The most important difference between state and federal prosecutions for criminal offenses is the presence of the grand jury. Grand juries are conducted in secret, and many of the rights and privileges available to witnesses do not apply in the federal grand jury. Once a grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecutor the grand jurors will issue a true bill and this is an indictment that is then used to initiate the federal prosecution of a criminal defendant or criminal enterprise. 

Prosecution in the state court typically begins with either an arrest in a public place for a criminal offense, or an arrest made with a warrant. For an arrest warrant to be valid it must be signed by a neutral and detached magistrate, and be attested to by a law enforcement agent or other official that probable cause exists to arrest the individual named in the arrest warrant. 

Applicable Laws: State Laws vs. Federal Statutes 

State laws are typically statutory. However, the Model Penal Code is a model used by many state legislatures to revise and update their individual criminal codes. Federal law is codified in the United States Code. Specific statutory provisions in this code are used to prosecute criminals in federal court. The federal government can preempt state law in a specific area, so typically offenses involving terrorism are prosecuted exclusively by the federal government. 

State laws are more focused on the unique geographical, cultural, and sociological differences between the states. For example, rural areas and urban areas may contain different types of criminal activity which demand that state law enforcement officers be trained in a specialized manner. 

Double Jeopardy: Understanding the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine

Dual sovereignty permits both the federal and state governments to prosecute one criminal defendant for the same offense. Double jeopardy is a constitutional protection that only applies when a criminal defendant is prosecuted twice by the same sovereign for the same offense. 

Power in the United States legal system is diluted, separated, and spread out among innumerable entities and individuals. A clear example of this is the separation of powers in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. This same principle applies to state sovereignty and federal sovereignty. 

Each state has its own constitutional provisions and rights that coexist with the federal constitution. All jurisdictions also have their own criminal codes. Both the states and the federal government have the legal right to prosecute an individual for the same offense because the criminal defendant may have violated state and federal statutes by committing a single offense. 

Protect Your Rights with Expert Legal Guidance

Facing criminal charges in state and federal jurisdictions requires experienced guidance. Jennifer Horowitz, a seasoned Seattle criminal defense attorney, is ready to navigate these complexities on your behalf. Her expertise in both state and federal courts ensures a robust defense tailored to protect your rights and achieve the best outcome. Schedule a consult with Jennifer Horowitz and safeguard your future.