What is the Difference Between State and Federal Crimes in NYC?

What is the Difference Between State and Federal Crimes in NYC?

New York City is unique in that there are overlapping state and federal jurisdictions when it comes to criminal law. This means that some crimes can be charged and prosecuted at both the state and federal level. Understanding the key differences between state and federal crimes in NYC can help you better understand your legal rights and options if you are facing criminal charges.

State vs Federal Jurisdiction

In the United States, we have a dual court system made up of state courts and federal courts. State courts handle crimes that violate state laws, while federal courts deal with crimes that violate federal laws.

New York State has its own criminal statutes and penalties that apply within the state. For example, things like assault, robbery, fraud, drug offenses, etc. would normally fall under New York State jurisdiction.

However, some crimes can also constitute violations of federal law, even if they occur entirely within one state. This includes certain drug crimes, white collar crimes like fraud and embezzlement, civil rights violations, and more. Federal authorities like the FBI and DEA often get involved in investigating and prosecuting these types of crimes in NYC.

So if you are arrested for a crime in NYC, you may face charges under New York State penal codes, federal US codes, or even both state and federal charges.

Key Differences in State vs Federal Crimes

There are several key differences when it comes to state vs federal crimes in terms of prosecution and sentencing:

1. Penalties and Sentences

  • Federal crimes often come with more severe sentences – Years or even decades in federal prison are common for many federal felonies.
  • Maximum sentences are usually higher at the federal level. For example, federal drug trafficking charges can result in lifetime imprisonment, whereas state penalties may cap at 15-25 years.
  • Minimum mandatory sentences are more common in the federal system. Judges usually have more discretion to go lower than minimums in state cases.
  • The death penalty is only available under federal law, not New York State law.
  • However, parole is rarely granted in the federal system, whereas many NY state prisoners do get released on parole.

2. Rules and Procedures

  • Discovery rules – The evidence and information that gets disclosed by the prosecution tends to be more limited in federal court compared to New York State court.
  • Speedy trial rights also differ – Federal cases tend to take longer to get to trial than state cases.
  • Federal sentencing guidelines also standardize sentences much more than the state system. This restricts judicial discretion in federal cases.

3. Chance of Conviction/Acquittal

  • Conviction rates in federal court are generally higher than state court, often over 90% compared to under 70% in state court.
  • Juries need unanimous verdicts in federal criminal trials, whereas NY state only requires 11/12 jurors to agree on a conviction.
  • So while federal crimes bring steeper penalties, the deck is also stacked more against defendants in terms of rules and procedures. The state system offers more wiggle room in certain respects.

Examples of Federal Crimes in NYC

There are many scenarios where federal criminal charges may come into play for crimes committed in NYC:

  • Drug trafficking cases almost always involve federal charges, especially when larger quantities are involved (e.g. conspiracy and distribution charges).
  • White collar federal cases are common in NYC – e.g. wire fraud, money laundering, Ponzi schemes, insider trading on Wall Street, and political corruption.
  • Federal gun laws may apply to illegal firearm possession or trafficking in NYC.
  • Certain gang violence and organized crime cases head to federal court, such as RICO or racketeering cases.
  • Major cybercrime rings, identity theft operations, or dark web marketplaces selling illicit goods to NYC residents could potentially face prosecution under federal computer hacking or fraud laws.
  • Terrorism charges almost always enter federal jurisdiction due to national security implications.
  • Certain civil rights offenses are prosecuted federally, such as hate crimes or police brutality involving NYPD officers.
  • Federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, SEC, and Homeland Security carry out investigations and arrests within NYC.

Getting Legal Help for State vs Federal Charges

Facing federal charges is extremely serious, and it’s vital that you have an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer on your side. The federal sentencing guidelines are extremely rigid and complex to navigate. The discovery limitations also make it harder to get access to the evidence against you.

Most criminal defense attorneys focus exclusively on New York State law and courts. Make sure yours has extensive experience specifically with federal cases in the Eastern or Southern District courts of New York. This expertise can mean the difference between decades in prison versus potential acquittals or minimized sentences.

For more advice on finding a lawyer to defend you against state or federal charges in NYC, check out these tips on hiring a criminal lawyer in New York. It’s also crucial to take immediate legal action and start building your defense case right away, before the trail goes cold!


How Sentencing Works in Federal Cases

An Inside Look at Federal Bureau of Prisons Facilities

Overview of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure