“Don’t make a federal case out of it.” We’ve all heard that saying. But until you’ve actually been accused of or charged with a federal crime, you can’t fully appreciate what that means. If you’re being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), or any other federal agency, you’ll soon realize that it’s not a fun experience. You need the assistance of an experienced attorney at Grabel & Associates can help.
It’s important to point out the difference between state criminal cases and federal criminal cases. A civics lesson is necessary here. Under the United States Constitution, the federal government has certain “enumerated” powers—i.e., those listed in the Constitution. In other words, if it’s not listed in the Constitution, the federal government can’t do it. State governments, on the other hand, are not so encumbered. Rather, any powers not belonging to the federal government are reserved for the state governments. Importantly for our purposes, this means that the state has the so-called “police power,” the power to govern the “health, safety, morals, and welfare” of its citizens. This is why the state can outlaw murder, sexual assault, drug use, etc. Thus, most garden-variety crimes that we’re all familiar with will be exclusively crimes against the state government and not the federal government.
For the federal government to criminalize something, there needs to be a hook in the Constitution. Very often, that hook is the “commerce clause”—the power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce. If an act could potentially have an effect on interstate commerce, the federal government can criminalize it. The federal government has used this to criminalize all sorts of activities that arguably have only minimal or tangential effects on interstate commerce. The result? A bloated federal criminal code and more opportunities for a criminal defendant to find himself or herself in federal court.
So what kinds of crimes are federal rather than state? Let’s take a look at some common examples.
If you’re accused of defrauding the federal government or defrauding someone in violation of federal law, you could be facing a fraud charge in federal court. Each kind of case is unique and requires a unique approach. Here are some common federal fraud cases we see:
Most low-level drug deals will not be on the federal government’s radar. Such cases will more often be handled by local county prosecutors. But if you’re accused of trafficking drugs across state lines—especially large amounts of drugs—you’re more likely to attract the attention of the federal government. If the feds are involved, you know it’s serious. You need to hire a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.
So-called “white collar” crimes often implicate professionals and businesspeople. They usually involve the alleged misappropriation of money. People often assume that white collar crimes aren’t very serious since they’re nonviolent. In truth, though, federal prosecutors often pursue white collar crimes more aggressively than “traditional” crimes. And a federal prison sentence is almost always a possibility. You need to protect yourself and your assets. White collar crimes can be extremely complicated cases, and you’ll need a thorough and dedicated criminal defense attorney on your side. Here are some common white collar crimes that we see in our practice:
If you’re charged with possession or production of child pornography in federal court, you better buckle up. Federal prosecutors take these charges very seriously. Do not expect leniency. The prosecutor will not be sympathetic to any claim that you “only had a few pictures.” Nevertheless, you may have defenses in your case. Are the images in fact child pornography, i.e., are the people in the images less than 18 years old? Were you aware that the images were child pornography? Could someone else have downloaded the images? Who had access to the computer or device where the child pornography was allegedly found? There’s a lot for a criminal defense attorney to explore.