What Is the Difference Between a Federal and a State Charge?

Most criminal prosecutions involve violations of state laws, but certain offenses can also be charged as federal crimes. State governments have the authority to pass laws that outlaw criminal behaviors, but the federal government (Congress, specifically) also has the power to write laws and penalize certain criminal actions.

For an offense to be charged as a federal crime, it typically must involve a national issue. For example, sex trafficking across state lines is a criminal offense that involves multiple states and is, therefore a federal issue. However, while some offenses can only be charged as federal crimes, many crimes can be charged at the state or federal level because they violate both state and federal laws.


Federal offenses include a wide variety of criminal actions, including crimes that cross state lines, defrauding or deceiving the federal government, crimes that occur on federal property, and immigration and customs violations.

Some specific examples of federal crimes include:

Federal crimes are investigated by federal agencies such as the FBI and DEA. These crimes are then prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys in federal court. The federal court system is made up of district courts, courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court. Federal judges are personally appointed by U.S. presidents.

If you have been charged with a federal criminal offense, you should take the charge very seriously. The vast majority of individuals who are prosecuted in federal court end up being convicted, and the sentences are often severe. That’s why it is critical to hire a seasoned federal criminal defense lawyer to help you fight the prosecution’s claims.


State crimes, which are typically outlined in a state’s penal code, involve violations of laws passed by specific states. The laws and penalties regarding certain criminal actions vary from state to state. Crimes such as kidnapping, murder, larceny, sexual assault, and burglary are state-level offenses and can be charged and prosecuted by the state. However, many state crimes could also potentially be charged at the federal level if the perpetrator crosses state lines, if the crime happened on federal land, etc.

Local police, sheriff’s offices, and other state law enforcement agencies are tasked with investigating state crimes. State crimes are usually prosecuted in the city or county where the crime occurred, with a local or state judge presiding over the trial. Occasionally, trials for state crimes are moved to nearby cities or counties if a judge agrees that the defendant can’t get a fair trial in the place where the crime was carried out.

If you have been charged with a state crime in South Carolina, then you should waste no time securing the services of an accomplished South Carolina criminal defense lawyer. To have the best chance of having your charges reduced or dismissed, you must have competent legal representation.


There are federal sentencing guidelines that dictate how federal crimes should be sentenced, and federal judges tend to closely follow these guidelines. Being convicted of a criminal offense at the federal level can lead to harsher penalties than a conviction for a similar offense at the state level. Because federal interests are typically at stake in a federal criminal trial, many individuals who are convicted of federal crimes will spend more time behind bars than individuals convicted in state and local courts. People convicted of federal drug crimes, in particular, can face decades in prison, even for a first offense.

Individuals who are sentenced to prison time for federal crimes will be incarcerated in the federal prison system, while individuals who are sentenced to a prison term for a state crime will be incarcerated in state and local facilities.


Whether you are facing charges in state or federal court, our experienced trial attorneys at Truslow & Truslow have the knowledge and resources to build a robust defense on your behalf. If you hire our skilled legal team to handle your case, we will fiercely defend your rights throughout the legal process and provide you with vigorous representation in court. Contact us today at (803) 590-6688 to schedule a consultation with one of our dedicated South Carolina criminal defense attorneys.

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