Federal charges are legal charges filed if a person is suspected of committing a federal crime. These charges indicate that the crime has violated legislation created by the federal government, rather than laws made by state or local institutions. There are many crimes that qualify for federal-level charges, depending on the laws of the governing body.
The distinction between federal and state or regional charges is not always evident. There are several factors that can determine whether charges are filed at the regional or federal level, including the type and location of the crime and the volume of evidence. Some crimes may be applicable for both state and federal charges, in which case jurisdiction may depend on the individual circumstances of a crime.
The rules of evidence in federal criminal procedure tend to differ from those of lower ranking courts. Generally, federal charges cannot be filed until extensive evidence is compiled and the case is reviewed and deemed acceptable by a governing body. Federal-level charges are usually investigated by a government agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and prosecuted by a special federal prosecutor. Another way federal charges can result is if a person commits a crime on federal land, such as in a national park.
Although countries with federal court systems have varying ideas about the role of the government in pursuing crime, certain areas, such as national defense, currency, and international relations are usually considered federal rather than state or regional issues. Other areas that may qualify for federal charges include mail fraud or large scale investment fraud, wire fraud, gun or weapons violations, and possession or distribution of child pornography. Crimes that cross state lines, such as some drug trafficking operations, may be charged federally to avoid creating conflict between states.
If facing federal charges, many legal experts recommend seeking out an experienced lawyer that specializes in federal law. Since the rules of procedure and evidence often differ extensively from regional rules, a regular criminal defense lawyer may not be sufficient to handle a federal case. It is important to note that since many federal cases undergo an extensive investigation period before being allowed in court, the conviction rate is typically extremely high.
Some countries, such as the United States, use a uniform sentencing code to determine appropriate penalties based on federal charges. This issue is extremely controversial, as judges are required to consider a formula for sentencing based on the type of crime and the defendant's criminal history. The sentencing code has led to the adoption of mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, particularly for drug possession and trafficking crimes. This issue remains a major controversy in legal circles, as many claim that mandatory minimums and the sentencing code reduce the rights of judges.