When someone commits a crime, they may initially face charges at the state or local level.
However, in certain situations, these charges can escalate to federal-level charges. This can have serious consequences, including longer prison sentences and more severe penalties.
1. Crossing state lines
Federal jurisdiction comes into play when criminal activities occur in multiple states. For instance, if someone transports illegal drugs from one state to another, they may face federal drug trafficking charges.
2. Crimes on federal property
Crimes committed on federal property, such as national parks, military bases or federal buildings, often fall under federal jurisdiction. Acts like vandalism, trespassing or drug-related offenses on federal lands can lead to federal charges.
Crimes involving computers and the internet, such as hacking, identity theft or online fraud, can become federal charges. Federal agencies like the Cybercrime Unit of the Department of Justice investigate and prosecute cybercriminals.
4. Drug trafficking
Large-scale drug trafficking operations that span across multiple states often lead to federal charges. Federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration target major drug trafficking organizations.
5. Hate crimes
Hate crimes that violate federal laws may lead to federal charges. For example, if a hate crime involves interference with someone’s federally protected rights, it can become a federal matter.
6. White-collar crimes
Serious white-collar crimes like embezzlement, securities fraud or large-scale tax evasion often result in federal charges. These types of cases often involved federal agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.
When faced with federal charges, the legal process comes with added complexity and a longer process. In 2020, the United States District Court in Maryland had 845 cases still pending at the end of the year.