The Prosecution of Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes

A federal crime is one that has been made illegal by federal legislation.

The organizations that usually investigate federal crimes include:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

  • Secret Service

  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

  • Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Many types of federal crimes are also illegal at the state level. When an act is considered criminal at both the state and the federal level, it can be tried by either court system. The decision regarding which level to prosecute the crime on involves several factors.

Crimes most often prosecuted in the federal court include:

  • Financial crime

  • Drug trafficking

  • Large-scale fraud

  • Organized crime

  • Fraud against the U.S.

  • Crime committed against federal officials

Conversely, the crimes most often prosecuted in the state court system include crimes against an individual (such as assault or rape) and crimes against property (like theft or robbery). State governments usually handle more cases than the federal government, but there are certain offenses that can only be prosecuted at the federal level.

Crimes only handled by the federal court include:

  • Treason

  • Espionage

  • Federal tax evasion

  • Customs offenses