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What Are The Differences Between Federal And State Crimes?

Federal crimes are violations of federal criminal laws under the federal criminal code. These laws are passed by federal lawmakers to protect federal or national interest. Typically, federal crimes involve federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Secret Service (USSS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Homeland Security Investigation (DHS/HSI), US Postal System, Department of Homeland Security, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

Crimes where the defendant or the criminal conduct crosses state lines, such as taking a kidnap victim from one state to another, are examples of federal crimes. Other examples are:

  • International human trafficking
  • Internet fraud scheme spanning multiple states
  • Drug crimes
  • Tax crimes
  • Immigration crimes
  • Violent crimes or crimes that include weapon charges
  • Crimes such as theft or murder that take place on federal property

Persons convicted of federal crimes are tried in federal courts. If they are sentenced to a prison term, they will be incarcerated in federal prison.

State crimes are violations of state criminal statutes. These statutes are passed by state legislators and enforced by state law enforcement agencies such as county sheriff offices, city police departments, and other state authorities. State statutes exist to protect lives, property, and the public good of the citizens of a state. Most crimes committed in the United States are state crimes. Examples of state crimes are:

  • Assault
  • Homicide
  • DUI
  • Burglary
  • Theft
  • Arson
  • Water pollution

Persons convicted of state crimes are tried in state or county courts. If the penalty for their conviction is imprisonment, they will be incarcerated in a state or county prison.

Some offenses are crimes under both federal and state statutes. Examples include kidnapping and sexual offenses. In some cases, state statutes contradict federal laws. However, as provided by Article VI of the US Constitution, also known as the Supremacy Clause, federal law is superior to state law where matters of national welfare are concerned. In such cases, contradicting state laws may be nullified by a federal judge.

When more than one state or both state and federal government can claim jurisdiction in a case, it is called concurrent jurisdiction. It can also occur when more than one court in the same state can claim jurisdiction over a claim. When this happens, a plaintiff may choose the forum or court in which their case will be treated most favorably. This is known as Forum Shopping.

How Does New York State Court System Differ From Federal Court System?

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure governs federal criminal processes, and prosecution begins with an investigation. Investigators in government agencies such as the FBI, DEA, and DHS gather information or evidence that provides prosecutors with an understanding of the case at hand. Federal criminal processes may also begin with arrests if there is probable cause, or if law enforcement agents witness the commission of the crime.

After the investigation, a prosecutor determines if the case should be presented to a grand jury. Typically, a grand jury comprises 16–23 impartial citizens who receive all available evidence and decide through votes if the defendant should be charged. This is done in the jury room, where only members of the jury are present. If it is decided that the defendant should not be charged, the grand jury will not deliver an indictment, and all the proceedings and statements presented to the grand jury will be sealed. If the defendant is indicted, such a person will be given formal notice. The indictment will contain the formal criminal charges leveled against the defendant.

When the defendant is charged, the next step is the initial hearing before a magistrate judge. At the initial hearing, the defendant is required to enter a plea, guilty or not guilty, and the magistrate judge decides whether the defendant is to be held in custody or released on bail before the trial. Trials are held in US District Courts. After the initial hearing, the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorneys prepare for trial by talking to witnesses and reading reports. In this process, known as discovery, prosecutors provide defendants with copies of the evidence and other materials intended for use at the trial.

Government may offer the defendant a plea deal to avoid going to trial. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a preliminary trial may be held. At the preliminary trial, a judge will determine, after listening to witnesses and considering the evidence, if there is cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime. If probable cause is not established, the judge may dismiss the case. If probable cause is established, a trial will be scheduled.

At a trial, all the facts and evidence of a case are presented to a carefully selected jury. After considering statements by the prosecution and the defense, witnesses examinations, and all other evidence presented, the jury determines if the defendant is guilty of the charge. Defendants found not guilty are set free while defendants found guilty are sentenced according to the provisions of the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines.

In New York State, after the preliminary investigation process by the police department or other state authorities, the defendant first appears in court at an arraignment, where the charges against the defendant are read. The defendant is also required to enter a plea at the arraignment, to tell the court whether they are guilty or not. For defendants who plead guilty, a sentence is determined by the court. If the plea entered is ‘not guilty,’ the case may be presented to a grand jury, depending on the offense. A trial may also be scheduled.

After the arraignment, a defendant may be held in jail, released on bail, or released on recognizance. Defendants who are released on bail or recognizance but do not show up for court dates may have bench warrants issued for their arrest. If the defendant is charged with a felony crime, a preliminary trial may be held where a judge determines if sufficient evidence exists to continue the case. If the evidence provided is insufficient to prove that the defendant committed the crime, the defendant will be released from custody. Otherwise, the case will be presented to a grand jury.

Defendants found to have committed a crime different from the original felony charge may have the charge reduced. Where a grand jury delivers an indictment, the defendant will be arraigned a second time. A defendant who enters a guilty plea is sentenced while the defendant who pleads ‘not guilty’ is scheduled for trial, and pre-trial motions and discovery will begin.

For felony crimes and Class A misdemeanors, defendants have a right to jury trials; however, defendants may request a bench trial, where they will be tried by a judge alone. For murder in the first degree, a jury trial is required by law. In places outside New York City, persons convicted of Class B misdemeanors have a right to a jury trial. In New York City, misdemeanors and violations apart from Class A misdemeanors are tried at a bench trial. For felony crimes, the jury is made up of 12 community members and up to six alternates. For crimes less than felonies, the jury is made up of 6 community members and up to four alternates.

Defendants found not guilty by the jury or judge are acquitted, and the records of such cases are sealed. Defendants found guilty are sentenced according to the provisions of the New York State Penal Code.

How Many Federal Courts Are There In New York?

New York state has federal courts in every district. The jurisdiction of the courts encompasses the geographical locations in the districts. There are four federal district courts in New York. Along with the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, there are five courts in total.

  • United States District Court for the Northern District of New York
  • United States District Court for the Western District of New York
  • United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
  • United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (N. D. N.Y) is the federal district court whose jurisdiction includes: Albany, Jefferson, Broome, Montgomery, Columbia, Lewis, Chenango, Madison, Cayuga, Oneida, Tioga, Delaware, Tompkins, Clinton, Onondaga, Franklin, Otsego, Cortland, Herkimer, Ulster, Essex, Hamilton, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Warren, Fulton, Greene, Oswego, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie, and Washington. The court has locations at Albany, Binghamton, Plattsburgh, Syracuse, and Utica.
  • The United States District Court for the Western District of New York (W. D. N.Y) is a federal district court. Its jurisdiction comprises counties in the western part of Upstate New York, including Allegany, Erie, Cattaraugus, Genesee, Chautauqua, Livingstone, Niagara, Monroe, Orleans, Ontario, Seneca, Schuyler, Steuben, Seneca, Wyoming, Wayne, and Yates. Its jurisdiction also includes Rochester, Elmira, and Buffalo. The court has locations at Buffalo at:

2 Niagara Square

Buffalo, NY 14202–3350

and Rochester at:

2120 Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building

100 State Street

Rochester, NY 14614

  • The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (E. D. N.Y) is a federal district court with jurisdiction spanning Richmond (Staten Island), Suffolk, Nassau, Queens, and Kings (Brooklyn). The main courthouse is in Brooklyn at:

225 Cadman Plaza East

Brooklyn, NY 11201

The divisional office is in Central Slip at:

100 Federal Plaza

Central Islip, NY 11722

  • The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (S. D. N.Y) is a federal district court. Its jurisdiction includes New York, Westchester, Bronx, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, and Sullivan. The court hears cases in four courthouses in Manhattan, White Plains, and Poughkeepsie. An S. D. N.Y courthouse can be found at:

500 Pearl Street

New York, NY 10007–1312

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one of the most influential appellate courts in the United States. The court has appellate jurisdiction over all the four federal district courts in New York and Vermont and Connecticut districts. It is located at:

Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse,

40 Foley Square, New York, NY 10007

Are Federal Cases Public Records?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) grants members of the public access to records from any federal agency. Except for the information requested falls under one of the nine exemptions from the FOIA, any information requested must be disclosed by federal agencies. The exemptions to the FOIA protect law enforcement, national security, and personal privacy.

How To Find Federal Courts Records Online

The public can access court records and case information from the United State District Courts in New York through PACER. PACER, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is a service provided by the federal judiciary. Registration is required to use the PACER service.

Case and docket information for each district court in New York is hosted locally; however, a PACER account is required to access each court’s record filing website. Through the PACER locator, requesters can search for cases for which the court of filing is unknown. Case records on PACER may not include personal identifying information such as financial account numbers, social security information, house address, date of birth, and names of minors.

A fee of 10 cents is charged to access a page through PACER. However, the fee to access one document is capped at $3. Transcripts of court proceedings, name searches, and non-case-specific reports are not capped.

How To Find Federal Court Records In New York?

Physical copies of federal court records may be requested from the Office of the Clerk in the court where the case was filed. Written requests must be submitted to the Clerk of Court. Requests can be made in person, by mail, or by fax. Records may be viewed without charge at the courthouse, but a nominal fee is charged for the printing of copies.

Copies of older records may be obtained at Federal Records Centers.

Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed In New York?

As provided by Rule 48 of the United States Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, federal crimes may be dismissed by the United States Government or by the federal court under certain conditions:

  • The Government may dismiss an indictment or complaint with permission from the court. If a trial is ongoing, the Government can only dismiss the prosecution with the consent of the defendant.
  • An indictment may be dismissed by the court if there are unnecessary delays in:
    • Filing information against the defendant
    • Presenting a charge to the grand jury
    • Bringing the defendant to trial

Also, if the prosecution cannot establish probable cause, or if there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal charge, the case may be dismissed.

How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?

Federal laws provide for the expungement or sealing of federal criminal records under very limited circumstances.

  • Records of cases where a defendant is found guilty of an offense under the Controlled Substances Act, and the defendant was less than 21 years old at the time of the offense, will be sealed and become unavailable to the public.
  • Members of the armed forces convicted of specific offenses may have their DNA records expunged if the defendant’s conviction was overturned.

Generally, for a record to be sealed or expunged, a judge must determine that the act of sealing or expunging the records is in the interests of justice. That is:

  • It is possible to misuse the information in the future
  • If there has been a demonstration of extreme police misconduct
  • Criminal Records
  • Arrests Records
  • Warrants
  • Driving Violations
  • Inmate Records
  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax & Property Liens
  • Civil Judgements
  • Federal Dockets
  • Probate Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Divorce Records
  • Death Records
  • Property Records
  • Asset Records
  • Business Ownership
  • Professional Licenses
  • And More!