How are federal criminal prosecutions different from similar criminal cases tried in state courts?

First, remember that not all crimes can be tried in federal court. The federal government has limited jurisdiction and can only prosecute crimes that are specifically defined in the federal criminal code. In order to have jurisdiction, the crime needs to either somehow involve the federal government or some degree of interstate commerce. Frequently, federal courts can be expansive in their interpretations of what constitutes interstate commerce, and crimes that were traditionally prosecuted within state courts are now being prosecuted in federal court.

The law enforcement agencies that investigate and prosecute federal crimes are very different from their state counterparts. Federal agencies are usually staffed with highly experienced prosecutors, agents, and investigators, and they enjoy virtually unlimited resources at their disposal.

Most importantly, federal crimes usually carry harsher sentences, particularly when it comes to crimes like drug trafficking, conspiracy, and cases involving child pornography and other sexual offenses. As a result, the mandatory minimum penalties often result in lengthy prison sentences for those people convicted. That’s why, if you’ve been accused or are being investigated for a federal crime, it’s important to retain a criminal defense attorney with a successful record in federal court.

Do you need to find a lawyer familiar with federal litigation?

At The Law Office of Warren D. Price, you’ll find a legal team dedicated to research, attention, and providing the most vigorous defense possible. We pride ourselves on trying difficult cases, and our firm has extensive experience with federal court cases. With more than 40 years of combined experience, we’re committed to standing by our clients and explaining every step of the legal process in language that’s clear and easy to understand.

We strive to be the best lawyers serving the Colorado Springs area.

Are You Being Tried in a Federal Docket? Murphy and Price, LLP Can Help

At the Law Offices of Murphy and Price, we have decades of experience trying federal criminal cases for defendants of all walks of life. We have additional experience in representing Colorado tourists, immigrants, civilians charged on federal property, and military service members stationed at Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and other local military bases/posts.

Understanding Federal Charges

State Courts enforce the laws of the state and uphold those laws. State courts have very broad jurisdiction, so most cases are charged at the state level. For the most part, criminal charges in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area violate Colorado state law and will be tried in a state court. However, there are some criminal cases that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Federal court jurisdiction covers very limited cases that are clearly specified in the United States Constitution and include:

  • Cases in which the United States is a party
  • Violations of the US Constitution
  • Cases involving more than $75,000 across state lines
  • Bankruptcy
  • Copyright and patent
  • Crimes that fall under dual sovereignty doctrine
  • Crimes where the arrest was carried out by a federal agency
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
    • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
    • Office of Inspector General (IG)
    • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
    • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
    • The U.S. Marshall Service
    • The U.S. Secret Service
    • The U.S. Coast Guard
    • Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Border Patrol
  • Crimes committed on national or international waters
  • Crimes on federal property
    • Federal land such as national parks
    • Military Installations

Understanding Dual Sovereignty Doctrine and Your Legal Rights

Simply stated, dual sovereignty doctrine is the legal principle that allows more than one sovereign to prosecute an individual without it violating an individual’s Fifth Amendment rights (and protection under Article 44 of UCMJ) to freedom from double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same crime. Typically, this occurs when charges violate both state and federal law or a crime is charged in both jurisdictions by different legal authorities.

For instance, child pornography is commonly tried under both state and federal criminal court. Federal charges may include the distribution of child pornography, especially when the internet is used. While, state charges for the same images can be charged for the abuse of the minor, filming of the minor, and possession of the child pornography. These are all separate charges from different sovereigns that carry their own sentences.

Dual Sovereignty Doctrine and Military Service Members

Dual sovereignty affects military service members disproportionately from their civilian counterparts. Dual sovereignty in the civilian court system still prohibits an individual from being tried for the same charges twice.

For military service members, regardless of whether a criminal case is tried in state or federal court, you still may find yourself facing charges for the same crime in both civilian court and under court-martial, with separate punishments for each. For instance, a DUI conviction on a military installation can be tried on the federal docket as well as in a court-martial. Additionally, if a crime is charged in both state and federal court as listed above, you may still face non-judicial punishment under UCMJ.

The principle of separate sovereigns can also be used to prosecute an individual when one sovereign lacks jurisdiction or the crime does not violate the laws of one sovereign. For instance, under Colorado state law, individuals over the age of 21 are able to possess 1 gram of marijuana or THC and can grow up to six plants for personal use. So, a Soldier living off-post who is within these limitations is not violating state law and cannot be placed under arrest. However, as a service member, the Soldier is held to federal laws and can be tried under federal docket and/or court-martial.

If you are a service member facing criminal charges in state or federal court and/or under court-martial or non-judicial UCMJ, contact the military criminal defense lawyers with experience trying federal cases at Murphy and Price, LLP.

Civilians Facing Federal Charges For Crimes Committed on Military Installations

Civilian visitors, employees, contractors, and family members living on post are subject to federal law while on post. This means that a civilian may be tried in federal court for crimes committed on post. While the punishments may be much less severe if tried in state court, because military installations are federal property, anyone on the property is subject to punishment under federal law. For instance, a civilian who is arrested for DUI on Fort Carson may face federal charges. Additionally, a civilian who possesses a legal amount of marijuana under Colorado state law may still face federal charges if the marijuana is seized on a military installation as it violates post policy and federal law.

If you are a civilian or military family member who was arrested on Fort Carson, Peterson AFB, or any of the Colorado Springs area military installations, call the federal criminal defense attorneys you can count on at the Law Offices of Murphy and Price.

If you have questions, or you’d like to arrange a free initial legal consultation, contact us today.

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