Can I be charged by the federal government with a crime?

Crimes can be punished by both the state and federal government and, in fact, just because someone has been charged and tried in the state level does not mean the federal government can’t charge and try to convict the person for the same offense on the federal level.

That’s because each level of government – North Carolina and the federal government – is considered a distinct and separate sovereign. Consider, for a moment, the example of prosecution of police who beat Rodney King. After a state trial, the police were found not guilty, the result of which was the riots that gripped Los Angeles and other major cities. But the federal government intervened, and charged the police with the violation of Mr. King’s civil rights. For that they were convicted and punished, and those sentences were upheld.

Most crimes are punished at the state level. For instance, a murder is typically a state offense. But there are almost always federal laws that are implicated even if the person has committed what someone would think is purely a state charge.

Take a homicide – the unlawful killing of another. If a gun was used in the homicide, and that gun was either obtained illegally, or the gun was used by a felon in the commission of the homicide, or the homicide was committed in connection with a violent crime or drug trafficking offense, that person can be charged federally.

A robbery of a store will almost always implicate federal law as well. If any of the items in the store are involved in interstate commerce, the Hobbs Act applies, which is a federal law that prohibits robbery that affects… interstate commerce.

Prostitution? If the person either traveled across lines, or the prostitute traveled across state lines, the act may implicate the federal Mann Act.

Have firearms been involved? Most firearms are not manufactured in North Carolina. If the federal government can show the firearm was manufactured out of state, and either purchased illegally or used by a felon, the federal “firearm by felon” law applies.

Did you use a computer or the internet to commit a fraud? Federal wire fraud laws apply.

Was child pornography at issue? The federal government has much more severe laws to prosecute the distribution or even possession of child pornography.

Drug laws can be similarly prosecuted at the state level, or at the federal level.

Does your case involve allegations of domestic violence? If so, while those cases are almost always prosecuted at the state level, a conviction for domestic violence will implicate 18 USC 924 which precludes persons convicted of federally-defined domestic violence laws from possessing firearms or ammunition.

It is important to consult a lawyer familiar with both state and federal laws that may affect your case.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.