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What Are The Differences Between Federal And State Crimes?

A federal crime is an offense that violates federal law or prohibited under federal statutes, including offenses that span state or national borders, resulting in the presentation of a case in the federal court. Usually, federal crimes are more serious than violations of local and state laws, as the offenders may constitute a more significant threat to public or national safety.

Federal crimes are prosecuted by government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and often carry penalties that are more severe than those imposed for state crimes. Some examples of federal crimes include:

  • Cybercrime
  • Violation of civil rights
  • Counterintelligence crimes
  • Terrorism
  • Violent crimes
  • White-collar crimes
  • Threats against members of the government
  • Theft of jewelry, art, or other articles of value
  • Organized criminal activity
  • Corruption of the public
  • Immigration crimes
  • Domestic violence
  • Tax evasion
  • Human trafficking
  • Medicare fraud
  • Child pornography
  • Drug trafficking

In situations where an individual, a set of persons, or an organized group commits a federal crime, Other government agencies other than the FBI that may handle the related investigation include:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive
  • Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Health and Human Services
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Internal Revenue Services
  • U.S. Marshals Service
  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service
  • U.S. Secret Service

State crimes are offenses that violate state legislation. Crimes that occur in Florida and violate any part of the Florida Statutes are considered state crimes, except where the crime qualifies as federal crimes. Florida state crimes fall under the jurisdiction of state authorities such as the county sheriffs, local police officers, and other local law enforcement agencies. Examples of state crimes include:

  • Theft
  • Murder
  • Drug Possession
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Arson
  • Armed Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Rape

It is not uncommon for a defendant to face charges both in state and federal courts. Under the law, the two courts are viewed as entirely separate from one another. Hence, it is not considered double jeopardy. For example, certain drug crimes are included both under state and federal law. As such, a defendant may face drug manufacturing or distribution charges in both state and federal courts.

How Does Florida State Court System Differ From Federal Court System?

The fundamental difference between state courts and federal courts is that the state courts handle violations of state statutes while the federal crimes are tried in the federal courts. The litigants in a federal court in Florida are the defendant and the government with the jury or the district court judge acting as the neutral fact-finder. Usually, the government provides a lawyer to defendants who cannot afford an attorney. While the Federal Public Defender’s Office fills this role, a private lawyer may be appointed in situations where a conflict of interest occurs. These lawyers are typically named Criminal Justice Act or CJA.

Upon an arrest, a federal defendant makes the first contact with the federal court system in one of two ways. The defendant may be brought before a federal magistrate judge based on a criminal complaint, or the individual may be indicted by a grand jury and brought before a federal magistrate judge for a first appearance, detention hearing and arraignment.

Federal defendants arrested upon a criminal complaint are entitled to a preliminary hearing to determine if the government has probable cause to press forward with the related charges. Hence, a preliminary hearing is also called a probable cause hearing. During this process, a federal judge establishes that the government had probable cause to arrest a defendant for the charges brought against them.

Typical federal criminal cases begin with a first appearance, followed by a detention hearing, an arraignment, a status conference about a month later, and a scheduled trial-term. Many times, there is more than one status conference for complex or multi-defendant cases. A trial term in the federal courts lasts about one month, meaning that a criminal case may be set at any time within the one-month timeline.

The state criminal justice process begins with an arrest by any law enforcement agencies in municipalities, cities, or counties. Often, law enforcement officers rely on the information or testimony of witnesses or victims of a crime to make an arrest. Within 48 hours of an arrest, an arrestee appears before a judge in a process called the “first appearance hearing.” Here, the court calls for a recitation of the facts of the case, and the judge decides if a bond should be set and what value it should be. Certain conditions may include a no-contact order between the arrestee and the victim. Bonds are guided by conditions to ensure the arrestee reports to the court when required.

Under the Florida Statutes, the arrestee may be released until trial if the bond value and conditions are met. Victims of the crime may choose to attend the first appearance hearing if they desire. While awaiting the review of the case by the assistant state attorney, it is determined if there is sufficient cause to move forward. If so determined, charges are filed against the arrestee. If the state determines that the case is not strong enough for prosecution, the victim will be notified, and the notice of the state is titled “No Bill.”

Around when a defendant is charged to a Florida state court, the defendant goes to court to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Usually, defendants enter a plea of not guilty to give their attorneys time to learn the facts of the case. At the arraignment, the judge will select a date for trial to start. Victims associated with the crime for which a defendant was charged will receive a notice via a subpoena. The victims are not required to be present at the arraignment but may choose to attend.

The defense attorney makes depositions to learn in-depth facts about the case. The attorney is permitted by law to ask witnesses questions and may serve subpoenas to the witnesses to appear for interviews. Witnesses reserve the right to request that the defense attorney bring in the Assistant State Attorney (ASA). Depositions are recorded by a tape recorder or a court reporter. Defendants are not permitted to attend depositions. Under the law, defendants are allowed to review the depositions after its conclusion and change their plea to guilty. Where pleas are changed, the victims are notified by a letter.

A case goes to trial when the defendant does not plead guilty to the filed charges. Typically, trials are held within 125 days of the initial arrest. Victims may be required to testify. In that wise, a victim advocate will help in explaining the procedure to the victim. Victim advocates may also help victims in making arrangements to prepare for the court appearance. Cases are often pushed back or continued. Upon the reports of evidence by the defense attorney and the ASA, both attorneys summarize their arguments’ main points in a “closing statement.” Afterward, the jury is excused to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury’s decision is also called the verdict.

How Many Federal Courts Are There In Florida?

Florida comprises of three judicial districts known as the Southern, Northern, and Middle Districts of Florida. These courts have the authority to hear appeals from the state courts and are also the point of origination for federal cases and lawsuits.

The court for the Southern District is held in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Key West, and West Palm Beach. The Southern District of Florida comprises of 9 counties:

  • Broward
  • Dade
  • Highlands
  • Indian River
  • Martin
  • Monroe
  • Okeechobee
  • Palm Beach
  • St. Lucie

The court for the Northern District is held in Tallahassee, Gainesville, Panama City, and Pensacola. The Northern District comprises of 23 counties:

  • Alachua
  • Bay
  • Calhoun
  • Dixie
  • Escambia
  • Franklin
  • Gadsden
  • Gilchrist
  • Gulf
  • Holmes
  • Jackson
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Leon
  • Levy
  • Liberty
  • Madison
  • Okaloosa
  • Santa Rosa
  • Taylor
  • Wakulla
  • Walton
  • Washington

The court for the Middle District is held in Tampa, Fernandina, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Live Oak, Ocala, Orlando, and St. Petersburg. The Middle District comprises of 35 counties:

  • Baker
  • Bradford
  • Brevard
  • Charlotte
  • Citrus
  • Clay
  • Collier
  • Columbia
  • De Soto
  • Duval
  • Flagler
  • Glades
  • Hamilton
  • Hardee
  • Hendry
  • Hernando
  • Hillsborough
  • Lake
  • Lee
  • Manatee
  • Marion
  • Nassau
  • Orange
  • Osceola
  • Pasco
  • Pinellas
  • Polk
  • Putnam
  • St. Johns
  • Sarasota
  • Seminole
  • Sumter
  • Suwannee
  • Union
  • Volusia

Are Federal Cases Public Records?

According to 44 U.S. C. Ch. 31 of the Federal Records Act, all federal agencies are required to create and maintain records to ensure ease of access. However, expunged or sealed cases are prohibited from public view.

How To Find Federal Court Records Online?

Finding and obtaining federal court records online in Florida is dependent on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) case locator. PACER is an electronic docket and case information from federal courts (bankruptcy, district, appellate courts, and the U.S. Party/Case Index). To search a case via PACER, users are required to register for a PACER account. The public may find the link to the case locator on the PACER homepage or the individual federal court website.

To use the PACER case locator, interested persons should:

  • Access the index through registration and login. Case only registration will require interested persons to fill personal information.
  • Use the quick search feature and select the type of record required in terms of cases, parties, or bankruptcy.
  • Conduct a basic or advanced search to streamline results or a public query to get case number
  • Input necessary information. For case search, this includes details on court type case number, case title, court type, region, or date. For party search, this includes details on the party, party role, court type, and region. Bankruptcy search may require details like tax identification number, date filed, date closed, court type, region, party role, etc.
  • Pay the necessary fees to access the required case information. Access to case information costs $0.10 per page. The cost to obtain a single document via PACER is capped at $3.00, the equivalent of 30 pages. The cap does not apply to name searches, reports that are not case-specific, or transcripts of federal court proceedings.

Note, PACER requests may only be made for closed cases. Records of sealed or redacted court cases cannot be accessed through this automated system.

How To Find Federal Court Records In Florida?

Requests for copies of federal court records may be made in person at the Clerk’s Office at any of the courthouse locations in Florida. Persons may also contact the Records Section of the courthouse to obtain a record. Note that only civil records that have been archived and located at the Federal Records Center (FRC) in Atlanta, Georgia, may be ordered at the various courthouses. A service fee of $45 applies.

Persons who want to obtain copies of criminal case records from the FRC may order for the records directly from the FRC or have records section order it on their behalf for a fee. The service costs $64. A new fee of $39 has also been implemented for each additional box requested. For cases above 25 years old, requesters are advised to make the order to The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Southern District
Records Section
400 N Miami Avenue, 8th Floor North
Miami, FL 33128
Phone: (305) 523–5210

Middle District
Records Section
300 N Hogan St,
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Phone: (904) 549–1900

Northern District
100 N Palafox St
Pensacola, FL 32502
Phone: (850) 435–8440

Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed In Florida?

Though the dismissal of federal cases rarely happens, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s Dismissal of Actions (Rule 41) provides for them. According to the rule, the following are grounds for dismissal of federal crimes:

  • By Plaintiff: The plaintiff may dismiss a federal case for different reasons, including if there is no longer any interest in pursuing the case.
  • Involuntary Dismissal: This is when a case is dismissed because of a plaintiff’s misdeed.

How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?

Most of the time, it is impossible to seal or expunge a federal criminal record. The United States has no general statute that allows the expungement of a federal criminal record. However,  under 18 U.S. C. 3607(c)  persons charged with minor drug offenses, even when found guilty, may be able to expunge such criminal records.

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