State vs. Federal Crime: Understanding the Difference
State capitol building.

What is the Difference Between a State Crime and a Federal Crime?

Rachel Olszewski
Rachel Olszewski

The primary difference between state and federal crimes is that a state crime occurs when an individual breaks state law while a federal crime occurs when an individual’s offense breaks federal legal code. In one way or another, a state’s laws will vary from those of another state, while federal law is uniform across the United States. In some instances, a crime will be considered both a state and federal crime. Regardless of what you are being investigated for, it is wise to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney before any formal charges are filed.

State Crime

Different states have different laws. For example, marijuana is legal in certain states while the possession of marijuana remains illegal in other states and at the federal level.  For the most part, the majority of crimes committed fall under the state level. Other examples include: murder, robbery, burglary, arson and theft. When a state crime goes to trial, the case is prosecuted by the county attorney and legal system. If convicted, the offender will serve his or her sentence in a state correctional facility or a local county jail.

Federal Crime

A federal crime occurs when an individual commits a violation of federal law. Most notably, a federal crime occurs when criminal activity crosses state lines or affects interstate commerce. Common federal crimes include identity theft, drug trafficking, firearms offenses, tax crimes, internet crimes, mail fraud, organized crime, white-collar crime, and immigration offenses to name a few. While state crimes are investigated by local and state law enforcement, federal crimes are investigated by agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). When a federal crime goes to trial, it will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. If a person is convicted of a federal crime, that person will serve a sentence in a federal prison.

Contact Us

If you have questions about criminal charges, or have been charged, contact our team of attorneys today. For a free consultation, call us: 570-346-2600.


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Rachel Olszewski
Rachel Olszewski

Rachel D. Olszewski, an attorney at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., is a dedicated advocate for clients who have suffered unjust harm. Following the legacy of her esteemed family members, Rachel specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense. She is actively involved in professional associations and serves on the board of the Luzerne County Bar Association Charitable Foundation. Rachel is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania state courts and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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