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What Is a Federal Crime?

Explaining Federal Crimes

If you’re arrested in the state of Texas, you may have to face prosecution in a court of law. Most people face prosecution in a state court for a case that stemmed from violating a state law. In some cases, a person who is a Texas resident may violate a law that is established by the United States government. This is known as committing a federal crime.

Federal crimes are a special group of offenses that fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. This means that these cases are handled by federal prosecutors in federal courts. There are several other important distinctions between a federal crime and a state crime. Read on to find out more.

Defining A Federal Crime

Federal crimes are those which are prosecuted by the federal government. Specifically, this means that if a crime is covered by Texas state law, it stays under the jurisdiction of the state. Similarly, a federally illegal act committed in Texas can be handled by the federal courts without any judicial overlap.

In general, federal crimes are acts which may violate the sovereignty of the U.S. government or infringe upon systems set up and maintained by the federal government. Because state governments are responsible for handling most crimes that occur within their borders, the federal government takes charge when crimes fall outside of these bounds. For example, the federal government has jurisdiction over:

  • Interstate crimes, or crimes that cross state borders (smuggling drugs on an interstate highway, etc)
  • Crimes that occur outside of state jurisdiction (aviation crimes, naval crimes)
  • Crimes that target a federal system (banks, highways, federal buildings)
  • Crimes that use federally regulated systems in their commission (the postal system, the Internet, the stock market, etc)

So, even if you commit a crime in Texas, you can face federal prosecution if your actions infringe on a federally regulated system or if they affect federal property.

Examples of Federal Crimes

Federal crimes typically fall into the categories listed above, though not always. This list contains some of the most commonly prosecuted federal crimes:

  • Mail fraud
  • Bank robbery
  • Drug smuggling
  • Tax fraud or tax evasion
  • Distributing illegal pornography through the Internet
  • Destroying or defacing federal property
  • Plane hijacking
  • Human trafficking across state lines

There are many other types of federal crimes but these represent some of the ones that are most frequently prosecuted in federal courts. Some of the crimes listed here are also crimes at the state level. Typically, the facts of the crime will determine if it is prosecuted federally or at the state level.

For example, driving a car full of cocaine from Dallas to Houston may be prosecuted at the state level but driving that same car from Houston to Mexico or Arkansas can be handled by the DEA at the federal level.

Penalties for Federal Crimes

The penalties for federal crimes can vary just as much as the penalties for crimes at the state level. However, because federal crimes typically involve acts that cross state borders or seriously disrupt public systems, the penalties can be higher for first-time offenders.

For example, a person who commits an act of mail fraud typically does so to defraud others of their money or property. Because this crime has a relatively low chance of succeeding, a person who organizes a mail fraud scheme will likely target multiple people. As a result, when they are caught, their charges will be more severe because they targeted so many people. If they are convicted of mail fraud, they could be fined and sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison.

This also applies to drug crimes. The federal government uses a system known as mandatory minimum sentences to prosecute drug crimes. This means that, if a person is convicted of a federal drug crime, they must serve the entirety of their minimum sentence. This means that you can spend serious time in prison for a crime that might have gotten you probation time at the state level.

Also, people who are prosecuted for federal drug crimes have typically been accused of major drug activity. For example, if a person is going to cross state lines with marijuana in order to sell it, they won’t take just a gram or two. They will usually take pounds of marijuana in order to make more money. As a result, they will face a tougher sentence than a person who is pulled over in a small town with pot in their pocket.

Overall, the penalties for federal crimes are not much more severe than penalties for state crimes. However, because federally regulated systems are so important to the country’s infrastructure and because federal offenders often commit large-scale offenses, federal cases often lead to severe punishments.


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