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Difference Between State and Federal Charges

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If you are facing criminal charges in Washington state, you may wonder what the difference is between state and federal courts and charges. Certain crimes fall under state jurisdiction, some fall under federal jurisdiction, and others fall under both, in situations known as concurrent jurisdiction.

Knowing the difference between state and federal charges can help you better understand the process you need to go through to reach a conclusion in your case.

Types of Cases Heard in Federal and State Courts

Federal and state courts hear different types of cases. Simply put, state courts tend to have jurisdiction over more types of cases than federal courts. On the other hand, federal courts only hear cases involving the Constitution and specific types of federal law.

If you are facing criminal charges, you will most likely attend a state court for trial. For example, state courts usually hear cases involving traffic violations, robberies, and domestic violence. States also have courts that involve specific legal matters, such as juvenile court and family court.

Federal courts only hear cases that involve the following types of legal disputes.

  • Claims against the United States government
  • Cases involving Constitutional violations or certain federal laws
  • Lawsuits between two or more citizens who reside in different states, if the case involves more than $75,000 in damages
  • Cases involving ambassadors or public ministers
  • Most claims involving bankruptcies, maritime law, copyrights, and patents

Examples of Federal and State Laws

You usually go to state court if law enforcement believes you violated a state law. State laws govern numerous types of crimes, such as robbery, identity theft, domestic violence, and more. Most criminal, tort, contract, and family law cases fall under state jurisdiction.

If state law defines the specific crime, degrees, and potential penalties you are facing charges for, your case will be within the state court system. For example, drug possession within the state of Washington would be a state crime that will need to go to the state court, since Washington’s laws define the crime in the first place.

However, there are some crimes that do fall under federal law if the crime involves breaking federal law specifically. If you commit a crime on federal property or the crime occurs in more than one state, the case will fall under federal jurisdiction.

For example, drug trafficking is a type of federal crime if the trafficking crossed state lines or country borders. Robbing a federal bank would also constitute charges in federal court, and so would hiding taxable income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), since both crimes involve a federal agency.

Concurrent Jurisdiction Over a Case: How Your Defense Attorney Can Help

In some cases, both state and federal courts may have the right to hold jurisdiction over the same case. Concurrent jurisdiction occurs when a crime that falls under state law takes place on federal property or in claims involving members of federally recognized Native American tribes. Personal injury claims involving maritime workers under the Jones Act may also fall under concurrent jurisdiction.

Navigating the criminal justice system alone can be a challenge, but it can be even more complex if your case involves concurrent jurisdiction and other court considerations. Hiring a criminal defense attorney in Tacoma to help you with your claim can remove this confusion, allowing you to better understand your legal options.

If you have not done so already, contact a defense lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case.

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