Understanding the Criminal Law System in Federal and State Courts

Criminal cases are tried in state and federal court; however, the procedures are quite different. First, cases in federal court are prosecuted by U.S. attorneys: appointed officials who have years of experience. On the other hand, prosecutors in state courts are elected. They are usually called District Attorneys or Solicitors. Another difference is that attorneys must apply for credentials to represent defendants in federal court. Further, the federal government has a Public Defender’s Office. Many state jurisdictions hire private attorneys to act as appointed counsel.

Different crimes are prosecuted in each criminal law system. Federal crimes include,
* bank robbery
* crimes committed in federal buildings
* crimes committed on federal land
* health care fraud
* mail fraud
* some drug offenses

Drug crimes may be tried in federal court if they involve certain conduct, for instance, when a truck driver uses the interstate highway system to carry drugs cross-country. Likewise, the crime becomes federal if the Postal Service is used to facilitate the act. Federal cases seem to move quicker because there are procedures that never change, for example: federal courts use an all-purpose judge system, meaning that usually, the same judge hears a case from bail hearing to prosecution. In state courts, a defendant appears in several different courts and before different judges before a trial. Another major difference is that federal judges are appointed for life by the U.S. President, while state court judges are elected and generally have to be re-elected every four years.

The federal criminal law system employs a unique sentencing program. Sentencing guidelines are in place for all crimes and the system is directed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The agency is charged with making sentences fair so people are not treated differently. Sentences are based on two primary issues: how the crime was committed and the defendant’s criminal record; additionally, the guidelines dictate mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, therefore, an attorney can inform his client of the likely sentence. The accused needs to make sure their attorney is familiar with federal rules. An experienced lawyer gives the accused more confidence no matter what court they are in. Contact Legalphilly.com to learn more about federal prosecutions.

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