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What Are the Differences Between Maryland State and Federal Criminal Charges?

Being charged with a crime is a stressful and worrisome experience. It can become even more confusing if you do not understand how the criminal process works and in what court you are being charged.

In general, criminal charges are classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Felonies carry more serious penalties, typically, including a year or more in prison. The case will be heard in either federal or state court. The difference on which court hears the case may not seem as important as whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony, but there are important differences between federal and state charges about which you should know.

Jurisdiction of Federal and State Crimes

One of the biggest differences is who has jurisdiction. The federal government will prosecute cases involving people who have been charged with a federal crime. The state of Maryland will handle cases involving state law violations. Court rules and procedures can be different, so it is imperative you find a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney who has experience in federal court, as well.

Where a crime takes place is sometimes the determining factor in who has jurisdiction. Two people can be charged with similar crimes, but one can be facing federal charges because the crime occurred on federal property or took place in multiple states. An example is when you assault someone else. If it happens on the street corner near your home, it is likely going to be heard in state court. If you assaulted someone in a national park, the federal government is the one who will be bringing the charges. If you steal a car and get caught 15 miles from home, your case is likely going to be heard in a Maryland state court. If you stole a vehicle and drove it to another state, it would fall under federal jurisdiction.

Double Jeopardy Concerns

Some people charged with a crime on a federal level are stunned to find out that they can be charged in a state court, as well. They claim this is double jeopardy and against the law. What they fail to understand is that double jeopardy applies to matters in the same sovereign. State and federal prosecutions are not deemed to be the same, so the same sovereign argument does not apply.

Types of Crimes

Sometimes the types of crimes committed will automatically lead to a federal case, even if you think it might be just a state-level case. Federal crimes can include fraud, firearms charges, white collar crimes, and some drug related offenses. If the courts have the same jurisdiction over the offense, the prosecutors will make the decision on whether they want to pursue the case in federal or state court.

Parties Involved

With a federal-level case, a U.S. attorney will prosecute. This is someone appointed for life by the President and confirmed by the Senate. With a state case, it is prosecuted by the state’s prosecutor, who is appointed by the governor, subject to election.

Retaining a Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Maryland or in a federal court, contact the Law Office of Robert R. Castro today at 301-705-5137 to schedule a consultation.