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The major differences between federal and state criminal courts

Getting accused of a criminal offense is a concerning matter. Your freedom, your finances and even your career could be at risk. Those arrested or charged with a criminal offense in Florida will usually have to face those charges in either state or federal court.  

While the federal and state criminal courts both try people and either clear them of criminal conduct or convict and sentence them, there are big differences between the two court systems.  

State and federal courts have different jurisdictions 

Jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court. The right of a court to hear a case depends on the nature of the offense, the identities of the people involved and even the location of the alleged criminal offense. When a crime occurs in Florida, then the person arrested could face charges in either state or federal court.  

Knowing which law someone allegedly broke can help you establish jurisdiction. The same is true when you evaluate the location of the offense. If it involved travel between states, it may be a federal offense. The same is true of crimes against federal employees or that take place on federal property. 

Sentencing is much different in federal and state courts 

Florida has very specific state laws about how judges can sentence those accused of certain crimes. The federal government also has its own sentencing rules. Federal crimes often carry more significant penalties, with both repeat offenders and those accused of certain drug crime facing very harsh mandatory minimum sentences. The same circumstances could result in very different consequences depending on which court has jurisdiction. 

Another noteworthy difference is that the state courts typically handle far more criminal cases than the federal courts do. Annual estimates reflect about 30 million criminal charges filed in state courts every year, compared to only one million court cases at the federal level. The difference in the number of cases and the discrepancy in the total number of judges appointed to the different court systems could mean that the jurisdiction could affect how long you have to wait for your trial as well.  

Understanding the difference between state and federal criminal courts can make it easier for you to plan for your criminal defense. 

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