What are the advantages and disadvantages proceeding in federal criminal as opposed to a state prosecution? What are the advantages and disadvantages proceeding in federal criminal as opposed...
What are the advantages and disadvantages proceeding in federal criminal as opposed to a state prosecution?
What are the advantages and disadvantages proceeding in federal criminal as opposed to a state prosecution, provided there is concurrent jurisdiction?
First of all, whether prosecution is state or federal depends upon the crime and the jurisdiction. For example, crimes committed within the state's boundaries, such as burglary, auto theft, and the like, are generally handled by the state. A disadvantage in state prosecution is that there are far more caseloads than in federal court. Because of the amount of caseloads, both prosecutors and defense attorneys are more likely to make errors due to the sheer number of cases which they are handling at any given time. Also, the amount of caseloads can lead to long backlogs in court, bottom-line plea bargains, and longer incarceration for defendants who cannot post bail. As well, juries in state cases tend to be local, from the general geographic area of the crime. This situation could possibly lead to a partial jury.
Federal cases are generally more complex and involve crimes that violate federal law. For example, if a bank robbery occurs where monies are federally insured, the crime becomes federal. As well, if the crime takes place in a state park, such as Yosemite National Park, it is a federal crime. A disadvantage of federal prosecution is that the sentences are generally longer. Many offenses carry mandatory sentences, so plea bargaining may not be an option. Lastly, an advantage is that juries come from a larger geographical region, so they can tend to be more impartial.
Interestingly enough, some crimes can even be prosecuted at both the state and federal level.
There are several differences between prosecuting a crime in state court and in federal court, each of which have advantages and disadvantages.
The most prominent is the influence of local politics. By prosecuting a crime in state court, the trial will be held in a local courthouse, with the jury selected from the immediate area and a judge elected by the local populace. A prosecution in federal court, on the other hand, involves a jury from the district (often half of the state or larger) and is presided over by a judge who was appointed by the President of the United States and with life tenure. If the charged crime is something that the locals are against, the prosecutor is at an advantage by pursuing it in state court, in order to tap into that local political animosity.
Another big difference is the amount of prosecutorial resources at play. Federal prosecutions involve the resources of the federal government, like the Department of Justice, while state prosecutions involve the offices of local district attorneys or, at most, the state attorney general. The time, money, and resources that federal prosecutors can throw at a case is significantly more than an individual state can, so pursuing a case in a federal prosecution puts the prosecutor at a big advantage.
One advantage of proceeding in federal criminal court would be that a defendant might expect a trial less influenced by local politics and prejudices. Federal judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States, and thus in theory are free from influence or pressure from state and local political pressure, either from voters or politicians.
One potential disadvantage to the federal system, for a defendant, is that sentencing guidelines are stiffer and less flexible at the federal level. In other words the judge has less personal leeway in how long the sentence will be, and federal sentences, in general, are not subject to "time off for good behavior" and other such sentence-shortening programs.