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Differences Between State and Federal Cases

Many people may not realize that there is a difference between how cases are handled on the state level compared to the federal level. Federal criminal attorneys can help you understand what you can expect from the process.

Differences Between Federal and State Courts

There are many differences that exist between federal courts and state courts, beginning with the way they are constructed. Federal courts have judges who are selected by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. These judges are often tenured for life unless they are removed for bad behavior. The Senate will remove the justice through the impeachment process.

Federal judges have a very high stature, which comes with high expectations. The caseloads in federal court are a lot less than the caseloads in state courts which allows for cases to move with certainty on the federal level.

For example, it is not unusual in a state court for a trial to be continued multiple times before it actually takes place. Also, it is not uncommon for several cases to be set for trial in a state courtroom on the same day and at the same time. This is something that would never happen in a federal court. If you have a hearing in federal court set for 9:30 a.m., your case is most likely the only case that is set for that day and at that time. Cases are rarely continued in federal court on the day of trial.

Difference Between Federal and State Prosecutors

The vetting process for federal prosecutors is more intense than for state prosecutors. A position as a federal prosecutor is a more prestigious position and federal prosecutors typically have fewer cases. This allows them to be generally better prepared for trial. However, there are still a lot of very good prosecutors at the state level who enjoy prosecuting these cases. It would be a mistake to think that all state prosecutors are not as good as federal prosecutors because this is not the case.

Offenses Federal Prosecutors Prosecute More Severely

Recently, the Attorney General announced that certain narcotics offenses are no longer as much of a priority as they were in the past. Changes in the economy have allowed for health care fraud to become a very hot area for prosecution.

There have also been a lot of investigations and indictments brought against corporations. Arthur Andersen had criminal charges brought against them recently and Credit Suisse and other companies have been in the news regarding corporate guilty pleas in criminal cases. It is not just individuals; corporations, corporate officers, and board members are all fair game. Although prosecutors will continue to go after corporations, the next few years will also see a heavier emphasis on cybercrime.

Impact of Policy Changes on Criminal Courts

In the last few years, there has been more emphasis on going after small businesses for procurement fraud, for making false statements to the government in government contracting. Various memos have been written by the Justice Department saying that they are making it a primary focus.

There are often situations where a corporation could have a civil investigation against them. For example, if the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating them for securities fraud, and the corporation thinks that they are only fighting that battle. However at the conclusion of the civil case, their case is then referred to the Department of Justice, which initiates a criminal investigation.

It is important for corporations to fully understand the depth and the possibility of investigations against them. Just because a case starts off as a civil matter does not mean that it will not become a criminal matter at a later date. It is important to be prepared for this possibility from the very beginning.

When Cases Move From State to Federal Court

A white collar case may move from state court to federal court depending on the amount of money at stake. There are welfare fraud cases where individuals systematically defrauded the government of welfare benefits on such a broad scale that the case initially brought in the superior court was dismissed and then indicted in federal court.

Whether a case is transferred from state court to federal court often has to do with the amount of money, narcotics, or harm the government alleges. Oftentimes there is an overlap between what can be brought in federal court and what can be brought in state court, so prosecutors have discretion and flexibility, especially in the District of Columbia.

The Defense Cannot Move a Case to Federal Court

The prosecutor has the discretion to decide where the charges are brought. The defendant does not have this same discretion. The prosecutor will often make the decision based on who is investigating and the size of the case. It can depend on whether the defendant is investigated by the local police, the FBI, the DEA, as well as whom the case was brought to after the investigation. If the case was presented before the US Attorney’s Office, they may decide to take the case.

However, police officials can also present a case to the state prosecutors, who may have a different view and decide to proceed. Sometimes, cases are brought in state court, and for one reason or another, the federal prosecutors will be interested. For instance, they may be interested in a particular defendant, corporation, or government official. This may cause the federal prosecutor to ask that the state court dismiss their charges so the federal government can bring charges.

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