A lot of people are confused about state vs. federal crimes, so we are going to explain the difference between the two. State laws are created by state legislators, whereas federal laws are established by Congress.
If you violate a state law, you are committing a state crime and if you violate a federal law, you are committing a federal offense or federal crime.
In the United States, state-level crimes are prosecuted in the state courts and federal crimes are prosecuted in the federal courts. By far, the vast majority of criminal offenses are prosecuted on the state level and in the state courts.
For example, assaults, rapes, murders, and most theft and drug-related crimes are prosecuted in the state courts because these offenses are generally criminalized under state law.
Can an Offense Be a State and a Federal Crime?
Yes, some offenses are criminalized under both state and federal law. Identity theft (known as financial identity fraud or identity fraud in SC) for example, is criminalized under Section 16-13-510 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, but it's also illegal under federal law.
Under South Carolina law, identity fraud is a felony, punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
On the federal level, identity theft is criminalized under 18 U.S. Code § 1028. Under this section, identity theft is punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison depending on the facts of the case.
Essentially, if someone commits a crime that violates both state and federal law, the state and federal prosecutors will review the defendant's case and decide whether to prosecute in state or federal court.
As a general rule, the punishments for a federal crime are much stiffer than they would be if the crime was prosecuted on the state level.
State and Federal Prisons are Not the Same
We wanted to take a moment to discuss the differences between state and federal prison because they are not the same. If you ask any inmate who's been to both, they will quickly tell you that federal prison is much "nicer" or "cushier" than state prison, and that's true.
State prisons are lower security than federal prisons and they tend to house people who've been convicted of serious violent crimes, such as rape and murder. The state prisons also have a large gang population.
On the other hand, the federal prisons are higher security. Instead of housing violent criminals, they house more "white collar criminals" who committed financially-motivated crimes, such as health insurance fraud, securities fraud, bankruptcy fraud, tax evasion, and embezzlement – you get the picture. Many of these convicts are college-educated professionals who committed non-violent crimes.
So, if someone is convicted of a state-level crime, they'll likely go to prison for less time, but they will be in a more crowded prison that's perceived as more dangerous than federal prison.
If you are facing state or federal charges in Columbia, South Carolina, contact Masella Law Firm, P.A. for a hard-hitting defense. Call now for a personal consultation!