What Happens When Someone Violates Federal Criminal Laws?

Free & Confidential Consultations

Most of the criminal cases people might become entangled in are violations of state laws.

Possession of controlled substances is usually prosecuted as a state crime, but if the offense happened on federal property in California, it could be a violation of federal law.

The handling of federal crimes is left to federal law enforcement and prosecutors with the cases being held processed through the federal court system.

Dual Sovereignty and the Constitution

The Founding Fathers created dual sovereignty or a dual system of governing when they wrote the Constitution.

States were given authority to govern certain aspects of the lives of their citizens while the federal government was given exclusive power over other areas.

For example, stealing a television from a store in San Diego is a violation of California law that would be investigated by the police and prosecuted by the district attorney in state court.

If, however, a truckload of stolen televisions is driven across state lines, it could be a violation of federal criminal laws enacted under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution empowering Congress to control and regulation activities involving interstate commerce.

The case might be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prosecuted by the Justice Department and heard in a federal courthouse.

Federal Courts and Federal Criminal Laws

The one thing to bear in mind when discussing federal versus state criminal laws is that someone charged with violating a federal law falls under the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

State law violations are never heard in federal court, and violations of federal laws are not heard by state court judges.

Sentencing in federal courts relies on federal laws and can be quite different than the sentences authorized for similar conduct that violates state law. Federal judges are guided by pre-sentence reports prepared by federal probation officers.

When a person is sentenced to imprisonment on federal criminal charges, the sentence is served in federal prison under the control of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Crimes That Violate Both Federal and State Laws

A few years ago, the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the hunt for the suspects was the subject of widespread coverage by the media.

Even though the deaths and injuries were caused by conduct that violated state law, jurisdiction over the investigation and prosecution was taken by the federal government because it was considered to be an act of terrorism.

Under circumstances in which there is a violation of both state and federal laws, prosecution and conviction in federal court do not prevent the state from prosecuting the individual.

A state prosecution would have the effect of the person completing the federal sentence and then having to begin serving the state sentence.

Double jeopardy rules prohibiting a person from being tried twice for the same crime do not apply when the charges are filed separately under state law and federal law.

When a Federal Defense Attorney Can Help

A person facing charges under federal law needs a San Diego criminal defense attorney admitted to practice in the federal courts with experience handling those types of cases.

The attorney can be a trusted source of advice and guidance through the process.

If you are in need of a criminal defense lawyer in San Diego, call The Law Offices of Kerry Armstrong, APLC to get started.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

Rate this Post

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars