Federal Charge vs. Felony—What’s the Difference?

Hands hanging out of a jail cell

Whether you are facing a Texas felony charge or a federal charge, you are looking at extremely serious charges with extremely serious penalties in the event of a conviction. A federal charge can simultaneously be a felony charge but will likely have harsher penalties than a state felony charge. It is never a good idea for you to attempt to handle either a federal felony charge or a state felony charge on your own.

Federal felony charges usually have more serious penalties than state felony charges, but both can be severe. Criminal charges can leave you anxious about your future and uncertain of what you can do to best protect yourself. An attorney from the Whalen Law Office will explain your charges and the potential penalties to you in a thorough, easy-to-understand manner, then answer any questions you may have.

What Are Federal Felony Charges?

Federal charges are reserved for offenses that violate federal law. This means your actions violated federal laws or disturbed federally regulated activity. One of the key factors separating a federal crime from a state crime is jurisdiction—where the offense occurred. As an example, if you vandalized a city park, you would be charged under Texas state laws. If, however, you vandalized a national park, your offense would fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Investigations for federal offenses are usually conducted by a U.S. agency like the DEA, the NSA, Border Patrol, or the FBI. In many cases, these government agencies will work with state law enforcement as they pursue a conviction. Federal offenses can be misdemeanors or felonies and are prosecuted by a U.S. attorney. If you are charged with a federal crime, your case will be heard in a United States District Courthouse. Most people are surprised to find that you could potentially be found guilty of the same offense under state law and federal law.

While you might think this constitutes double jeopardy, it happens more often than you might think. If you robbed a bank in the state of Texas, you could potentially be charged federally and under state law, and would face both charges. A guilty verdict would add your state sentence to your federal sentence. The criminal offenses most likely to be prosecuted under federal laws include:

  • Drug crimes that involve trafficking and cross state lines
  • Violent crimes, depending on the circumstances
  • White-collar crimes, including forgery, extortion, bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, violations of odometer laws, embezzlement, insider trading, and fraud.
  • Firearms crimes including illegal possession and transportation of firearms or ammunition, the use of explosives or fire to commit a felony, or possession of explosives or firearms in a school or federal facility
  • Possession of child pornography
  • Human trafficking
  • Gambling offenses like transmitting wagering information or engaging in a gambling business
  • Kidnapping
  • Any offense that occurs on federal property

If you are found guilty of a federal crime, the federal judge will use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to determine your penalties. The penalties for a federal felony offense vs. a state felony offense may differ significantly. Federal felonies are divided into five categories—A, B, C, D, and E, with a Class A felony being the worst. A federal Class A felony can result in life in prison and a fine as large as $250,000, while a federal Class E felony conviction involves a prison term of more than one year but less than five years and a fine as large as $5,000.

What is a State Felony Charge?

Under Texas state laws, felony crimes are divided into degrees, based on the seriousness of the offense and the severity of the punishment for the offense. Texas has what is known as a state jail felony, which is somewhere between a misdemeanor crime and a felony offense. A state jail felony is a crime that can result in jail time between 180 days and two years. If sentenced for a state jail felony, there is no such thing as time off for good behavior. You must serve your sentence in full, although your attorney may be able to have your state jail felony lowered to a misdemeanor with no jail time.

A state jail felony could include the unauthorized use of a vehicle, criminally negligent homicide, or possession of less than a gram of certain illegal drugs. Beyond a state jail felony, Texas has third-degree felonies, second-degree felonies, first-degree felonies, and capital felonies. A capital felony is the worst crime, including premeditated murder, espionage, treason, death resulting from aircraft hijacking, and genocide.

What Are the Differences Between a Federal Charge and a State Felony?

As noted, the biggest difference between state and federal felonies comes down to jurisdiction, or where the incident took place. When a crime is committed that spans more than one state, it will often be classified as a federal crime. When a criminal offense occurs on federal land, it is virtually always charged and prosecuted federally.

Not only are federal convictions usually harsher than state convictions, but if you are sentenced federally, you will be required to serve at least 85 percent of your sentence. Most states will consider your release (if you meet all the requirements) after you have served just 50 percent of your sentence. Federal law affords fewer opportunities for your attorney to reach a plea agreement, and the sentencing guidelines for a federal crime can be harsh and extended.

How a Federal Defense Attorney from Whalen Law Office Can Help with a Federal Charge

If your federal charge has left you anxious about your future, perhaps frightened, even angry, Whalen Law Office can help. We are strong federal criminal defense attorneys who know all the ins and outs of federal investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing. This gives you an immediate advantage, since far fewer Texas attorneys handle federal charges, with most only addressing state charges. If you are facing federal felony charges, your future is at stake. Your freedom could be in jeopardy, and the collateral consequences could extend far beyond your prison sentence.

You could find it difficult to secure employment, rent a home, obtain a professional certification, or even attend college with a federal student loan. What you do immediately following your arrest can make life-altering differences to the outcome of your federal charges. Contact Whalen Law Office today to discuss your charges. Let our law firm help you make decisions that will result in the best outcome possible.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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