What is the difference between a state and federal crime? The U.S. Constitution allows states the power to govern themselves. However, if there is a matter that concerns national welfare, then federal law prevails.
State v. Federal Crime
The state of Nevada will have jurisdiction over defendants who violate Nevada state laws. Federal laws come into play when a crime has been committed that is in direct violation of federal statutes. Sometimes, a crime is illegal according to both state and federal law, which is called concurrent jurisdiction. If there is a conflict between the two, federal law will prevail under the Supremacy Clause in the US Constitution.
The federal government has jurisdiction over defendants that commit crimes on federal property or crimes that cross state lines. Also certain crimes are exclusively within federal jurisdiction such as federal taxes, the Post Office, the military, immigration and customs. (Read our article about how a Washoe County robbery can be a federal offense.)
The federal government has jurisdiction over matters concerning interstate commerce. This involves doing business across state lines, and encompasses trucking, mail, phone use and television.
When prosecuting a case, state and federal prosecutions are largely the same. However the sheer quantity of paperwork and time involved in litigating a case will be different. Federal cases are characteristically slower, and the scope of the investigation will be much greater. This is because with federal law, the prosecutors are looking at a more all-encompassing view of the crime, while a state court is usually dealing with local and state police.
Calculating penalties in state and federal court are done differently. With federal matters, “The Federal Sentencing Guidelines” are used to arrive at a sentence. State crimes are calculated according to state legislation and guidelines.