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27 Nov 23

When Does a New York Crime Become a Federal Case?

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Last Updated on: 14th December 2023, 04:48 pm

When Does a New York Crime Become a Federal Case?

Determining when a New York crime falls under federal jurisdiction can be tricky. There’s lots of overlap between state and federal law. Generally, federal courts handle cases involving federal laws or interstate activity. But there’s a lot of grey area.

This article breaks down when federal courts may take a New York criminal case. We’ll also look at some examples. There’s pros and cons to being charged federally versus by the state. So we’ll go over implications too.

Federal Jurisdiction Basics

Federal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving violation of federal criminal statutes. This includes laws on things like:

  • Federal taxes
  • Federal firearms regulation
  • Immigration
  • Drug trafficking

Federal courts also take cases where the crime involves interstate travel or commerce. Plus crimes on federal land or against the federal government.

The Justice Department’s guidance lists situations conferring federal jurisdiction. But even if a case could be federal, the feds can decide not to take it.

Concurrent Jurisdiction Over Many Crimes

Here’s the confusing part. Federal and New York state courts have “concurrent jurisdiction” over lots of crimes. This means both court systems can prosecute the same offenses.

For example bank robbery. It violates both federal bank robbery laws and New York robbery laws. Federal prosecutors could charge the case. Or the Manhattan DA’s office could bring state charges instead.

Other examples of concurrent jurisdiction crimes:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Drug crimes
  • Child pornography
  • Fraud or identity theft
  • Cybercrimes

With concurrent crimes, what determines if it’s a federal or state case? Often just which prosecutors decide to bring charges.

Going Federal: Pros vs. Cons

There’s strategic reasons prosecutors choose federal or state court. And major implications for defendants too.

Potential Benefits of Federal Charges

Here’s advantages federal prosecution may offer:

  • Harsher penalties – Maximum sentences tend to be higher for federal crimes.
  • More resources – Federal investigators and prosecutors have funding and manpower edge over state and city agencies.
  • Broader reach – Federal statutes and agencies have jurisdiction across state lines.

U.S. Attorney offices sometimes take organized crime, drug trafficking, or public corruption cases due to these benefits.

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Drawbacks of Federal Charges

There’s also downsides to federal prosecution, like:

  • No parole – Fed time means doing at least 85% of the sentence, with little “time off for good behavior”.
  • Farther prisons – Federal prisons can be states away from family.
  • Higher conviction rates – Feds win more trials, meaning less incentive for plea deals.

Savvy defense lawyers prefer state court when possible. Better shot at a decent plea bargain or acquittal at trial.

When Federal Prosecution Happens

Federal agencies like the FBI get involved in New York criminal cases for various reasons, such as:

  • Suspected terrorist activities
  • Large-scale drug trafficking operations
  • Interstate human trafficking rings
  • Child pornography traded online
  • Cybercrimes crossing state or national borders
  • Major white collar fraud schemes

U.S. Attorney’s offices also prosecute when local officials can’t or won’t. Like police brutality or corruption cases.

In general, federal courts handle complex, high-priority crimes. Ones where federal laws or resources are needed.

Notable Examples

Here’s some real federal prosecutions of New York-based crimes:

New York Mafia

The Feds have battled the Five Families for decades. Racketeering charges let them target mob activities like:

  • Murders, beatings, and threats
  • Extortion of businesses
  • Infiltration of unions and industries
  • Gambling, drugs, and other organized crime

Using RICO laws, feds can take down entire mafia organizations. Not just individual members. This disrupts their criminal networks long-term.

Wall Street Financial Crimes

Remember the corporate scandals and market crash of 2008? Federal agencies stepped in to clean up Wall Street shenanigans like:

  • Securities and wire fraud
  • Ponzi schemes
  • Embezzlement and tax evasion
  • Insider trading
  • Predatory mortgage lending

Major white collar cases often involve federal resources and charges. Since schemes affect national and global markets.

NYPD Brutality Cases

When NYPD officers seriously injure or kill someone, it may mean federal civil rights charges. If state courts won’t prosecute police misconduct, the Justice Department might.

In 2014 the feds charged an NYPD officer with civil rights violations. He shot an unarmed Bronx teen to death in his own home.

Federal intervention seeks justice when local systems fail victims. But it’s rare due to high burden of proof.

The Takeaway

Determining federal versus state jurisdiction over crimes gets complicated. Many statutes overlap, giving both court systems power to prosecute.

Federal cases tend to involve complex, serious, or high-priority offenses. Or instances where federal laws or resources are needed.

There’s strategic pros and cons to facing federal rather than state charges. Harsher sentences, but also tougher prosecutions. It varies case by case.

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So when does a New York crime become a federal case? No simple answer. But hopefully this article shed some light on the key factors federal prosecutors consider.