Whether a case is heard in a state or a federal court depends on which court has jurisdiction. Pennsylvania, like other states, has broad jurisdiction and its courts are authorized to hear almost every kind of criminal case. Federal courts, however, only hear cases where there is a violation of a federal law. It is possible however for both the federal courts and state courts to have jurisdiction in some criminal cases. A federal attorney at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can help you make the distinction.
State Versus Federal Court
Most crimes, such as theft, DUI, illegal drugs, assault and traffic offenses, are covered under state laws and can be prosecuted in state court. However, some crimes only violate federal law and can only be prosecuted in a federal court. For example, if you commit a crime on federal property, use the US mail for extortion or smuggle heroin into the US, you will be tried in federal court.
Jurisdiction In Both State And Federal Courts
If a crime violates both state and federal law, the defendant can be charged and prosecuted in each jurisdiction. For example, if someone in Pennsylvania tries to get a Michigan resident to invest in a nonexistent business, and they use email to make their fraudulent offer, they can be tried in a state court in either Pennsylvania or Michigan or in a federal court.
Often determinations of where a case is heard depend on the severity of the crime. Crimes tried in federal court, as opposed to a Pennsylvania court, are the ones that are especially serious, including drug violations that involve trafficking large quantities of controlled substances. For example, if you are caught with a large quantity of heroin that you moved across state lines, it makes it more likely that your case will be prosecuted in a federal court. Federal investigators also often step in to investigate high profile crimes that draw intense national interest and the U.S. Department of Justice will then move to prosecute the suspects.