Most criminal cases in New York are handled in state courts. However, there are certain types of crimes and special circumstances that can lead to federal criminal charges.
Crimes on Federal Property
Crimes committed on federal property are prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys in federal court. From misdemeanor crimes such as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to serious felonies such as rape and murder, if the offense happens on federal land, the offense is charged in federal court. Federal land includes:
- Land under the control of the United States National Parks Commission, including both federal parks and federal monuments
- Federal courthouses
- Federal prisons
- American Indian Reservations
- Ocean-going vessels while at sea
- Airplanes while in the air
Any time a crime occurs on federal property, the prosecution is done by the federal prosecutors. However, the criminal investigation may include state and local authorities. How an investigation is handled depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular crime and its discovery.
Crimes with Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction
The United States Constitution, in Article I, Section 8, gives the federal government exclusive authority over certain subjects, such as bankruptcy, patents, the Postal Service, immigration, and the manufacture and regulation of money. Consequently, criminal charges stemming from cases such as bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud, criminal immigration issues, and money counterfeiting can be prosecuted by the criminal federal courts. Additionally, tax fraud and tax evasion are appropriately federal cases.
The Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, also found in Article I, Section 8, provides Congress the authority to regulate commerce among and between the states. The Commerce Clause may be used to allow federal prosecution of crimes that may otherwise be state crimes if the crime occurs across state lines. Some examples of crimes prosecuted under the Commerce Clause include:
- Drug crimes
- Sex trafficking
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
- Illegal firearms possession or sale
If any of these crimes involve travel across state lines, the government has the option of charging the crime in federal court or state court – or both under the theory of concurrent jurisdiction.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from being prosecuted for the same crime twice. Where a person is tried for a crime and found not guilty, a person cannot be tried again for the same crime. This is a concept referred to as double jeopardy. However, double jeopardy will not protect someone from being tried in both state and federal courts for the same conduct involving the Commerce Clause. This is because, under the Commerce Clause, certain federal crimes have concurrent jurisdiction. This means the conduct is considered separate crimes under the state and federal statutes, and therefore, a person may be charged under both state and federal law.
Consequences of Federal Criminal Convictions
The consequences of a federal criminal conviction include both a fine and jail or prison time. The nature of the consequence depends on a number of factors, including a person's prior record, the seriousness of the charges, the person's willingness and ability to cooperate with an ongoing investigation, the person's decision to take a case to trial rather than enter a plea of guilty to the charge, and a person's ability to be successful on probation.
Having an attorney knowledgeable in the federal criminal justice system is essential to a good defense in federal court. The rules for state and federal criminal courts are different. Knowing and working regularly in one system does not necessarily translate into knowing and working well in the other system.
Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions
In addition to a fine and potential jail or prison time, there are collateral consequences to a criminal conviction. These can include:
- Denial of employment
- Loss of employment
- Denial of a professional license
- Loss of a professional license
- Denial of housing
- Denial of public benefits
- Ineligibility for government contracts
- Debarment from participation in government contracts
- Exclusion from the operation or management of certain regulated businesses
- Restrictions on family arrangements
- Restrictions on providing foster care
- Limitations on one's ability to adopt a child
- Increased bond requirements
- Increased standards to obtain professional licenses
- Registration in criminal databases
- Entry and monitoring of DNA profiles on a National, State, and Local level
- Lifetime supervision
- An inability to move from one state to another without permission from federal probation
- Public record of criminal conviction
- Community notification of criminal conviction
- Notification of the criminal conviction to one's employer
Federal Pretrial Diversion
In certain circumstances, a person facing federal criminal charges may qualify for pretrial diversion. This can happen before charging or any time after charging but before trial. For those that qualify, their criminal charges are diverted out of the criminal justice system. They are expected to perform a series of requirements, including restitution, community service, counseling, education, job training, and the like. If they successfully meet the diversion requirements, the government agrees not to prosecute the case.
If You Are Facing Federal Charges
Some people learn they are facing federal charges when contacted by federal authorities for an interview. Others learn of the charges when a criminal complaint is filed. Regardless of how criminal charges come to someone's attention, having an experienced federal criminal defense attorney on your side is critical to facing the charges. Remember: the best time to hire a criminal defense attorney is NOW. It's typically too late to hire one after you've been arrested, or "invited" to come in and tell your side of the story.
Whether the decision is made to fight the charges, or attempt to negotiate a settlement, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can work within the system to accomplish the desired goals of the client. From reviewing the basis of the charges to evaluating the strength of the case to exploring possible defenses, at Frost & Kavanaugh, we consider every potential challenge. We also consider viable solutions prior to trial, which may include a pretrial diversion or other negotiated settlement.
Don't face criminal federal charges alone. Contact the office of Frost and Kavanaugh for a consultation today.