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Can a State Prosecute a Federal Crime?

— July 22, 2020

The facts of your case will determine whether the state government, federal government, or both have jurisdiction over it.

Generally, a state cannot prosecute a federal crime. The federal government prosecutes federal crimes.

Criminal cases can fall under either state, federal, or concurrent jurisdiction. When a case falls under concurrent jurisdiction, both the state and the federal government can prosecute the crime based on their own laws. However, the state charge and the federal charge are usually slightly different.

It is important to be aware of whether your case involves a federal crime because the procedure and penalties are different than in state court.

If you face federal criminal charges in Ohio, you should contact a federal criminal defense lawyer in Columbus as soon as possible.


The facts of your case will determine whether the state government, federal government, or both have jurisdiction over it. However, certain crimes tend to fall under state jurisdiction, while others tend to fall under federal or concurrent jurisdiction.

State Jurisdiction

The state has jurisdiction over crimes that violate the laws of that state and occur within the state’s boundaries. The state has the power to arrest, charge, try, and convict those who violate its laws.

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State laws cover most minor crimes, including:

  • Drug possession and sale,
  • DUI and OVI,
  • Theft,
  • Assault, 
  • Traffic offenses,
  • Domestic violence, and
  • Sex crimes.

States also have laws for more serious crimes, such as homicide and drug trafficking. Depending on the facts of your particular case, those types of crimes might fall under federal or concurrent jurisdiction.

Federal Jurisdiction

The federal government has jurisdiction over crimes that: 

  • Involve federal law;
  • Are committed on federal government property, such as a national park; or
  • Involve interstate commerce.

Federal crimes tend to be more complex than state crimes and carry more severe penalties.

Crimes involving federal law include:

  • Immigration crimes; 
  • U.S. Customs violations; 
  • Crimes involving the U.S. mail; 
  • White-collar crimes, such as money laundering; 
  • Federal weapons charges; and
  • Terrorism.

Crimes involving interstate commerce include:

  • Drug trafficking that involves shipping large quantities of drugs across state or international borders; 
  • Kidnapping that involves carrying the victim over state lines; and 
  • Sex crimes involving minors transported across state lines.

You should talk to a criminal defense lawyer today if you face federal criminal charges.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

When both the state and federal government have jurisdiction over a case, both governments can prosecute it.

Double jeopardy

Double jeopardy does not prohibit concurrent jurisdiction. Double jeopardy means that a criminal defendant cannot be tried twice for the same offense by the same sovereign. However, a state and the federal government are separate sovereigns. As a result, a person can be tried by both the state and federal government for a crime falling under concurrent jurisdiction.

Crimes involving interstate commerce

A person may be tried by both the state and the federal government for crimes that involve interstate commerce in addition to state-law violations.

In addition to drug trafficking and sex crimes, Internet crimes often fall under concurrent jurisdiction. Digital information is easily transmitted across state and international borders, subjecting individuals to both state and federal charges. Common Internet crimes that fall under both state and federal jurisdiction include piracy and file-sharing offenses.


Murder often falls under concurrent jurisdiction. Although all state laws criminalize murder, certain circumstances automatically make it a federal crime as well. These include:

  • Drug-related murder,
  • Murder committed during the commission of a felony, and
  • Murder of an elected or appointed federal official.

In these types of situations, both the state and the federal government may prosecute the case.

Because many crimes can easily fall under concurrent jurisdiction, you should talk with a criminal defense lawyer to find out whether the state government, federal government, or both can prosecute your case.


The procedure for prosecuting crimes and the potential sentencing can vary depending on whether the case is in state or federal court. 

State Criminal Procedure

The state’s rules of criminal procedure govern criminal cases in state court. Although many states’ rules of criminal procedure are similar to the federal rules of criminal procedure, each state’s rules can vary slightly.

Additionally, cases in state courts involve state prosecutors and state agencies, which tend to have fewer resources than federal agencies. Furthermore, sentences, especially for drug offenses, tend to be less harsh than those in federal cases.

Federal Criminal Procedure

Federal cases take place in federal court with federal judges, and the rules of federal criminal procedure apply. 

Federal cases involve federal agencies that usually have more resources than state agencies. Examples of federal agencies include:

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA),
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and
  • United States Attorney’s Offices.

Additionally, federal judges follow federal sentencing guidelines that often carry more severe punishments than state sentencing laws. Federal sentencing guidelines have mandatory minimum sentences with more emphasis placed on the accused’s prior criminal history.

Why You Need a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you face federal criminal charges in Ohio, you need a criminal defense lawyer experienced in federal law. Our federal criminal defense attorneys at Joslyn Law Firm will stand up against the skilled investigators and prosecutors in your case. We will work diligently on your behalf from the moment you’re told that you are the subject of a federal investigation.

By Brian Joslyn

Contact Joslyn Law Firm for legal assistance, questions, or representation.

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