Federal Crimes

Unlike state-specific laws that apply only within the borders of California, federal laws are the same in every state. Rather than being prosecuted by a district or city attorney, federal offenses are prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in federal courts. The investigating agencies, though they sometimes work closely with local law enforcement, are also federal and include the FBI, ATF, ICE, DEA, Homeland Security, and more.

Federal offenses are among the most serious crimes with which a person can be charged and usually have much harsher penalties associated with them in comparison to state crimes. Even some lesser federal offenses are treated more strictly than some major state crimes.

Punishments for federal crimes include very long sentences in federal prison and massive fines, plus many other consequences such as loss of professional licensure, being banned from living certain places, and being unable to vote or keep firearms. If you are facing charges for a federal offense, it is critically important that you consult an experienced attorney right away.

Criminal Defense Attorney for Federal Crimes in Ventura, CA

Most criminal defense lawyers only handle state cases and do not have the knowledge and specialization required to try a federal case. Not only does Jay Leiderman have experience handling many federal charges including those in the complex, cutting-edge field of computer fraud and abuse, he is one of the less than 1% of California attorneys who has passed a rigorous judge-reviewed examination to become specialized in Criminal Law through the California Bar Association.

With your freedom on the line facing the severe punishments that go along with a federal conviction, you want an attorney like Jay Leiderman – a recognized expert in criminal defense with years of experience handling high-profile federal cases. We work with clients in all ten Ventura County cities, including Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, and Ventura itself. Timing can be critical, and often the earlier you retain a competent attorney the better the overall outcome you can expect. Don’t hesitate. Call Jay Leiderman Law at (805) 654-0200 today for a free consultation. Together we can strategize and formulate the best plan for your defense.

Overview of Federal Crimes Law in California

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Types of Federal Crimes

There are essentially two types of federal offenses. The first set are those crimes that only exist in federal law and do not have equivalents in state penal codes. Second are crimes that also exist under state law but can become federal in they occur on US government property, take place in multiple states, or cross interstate borders.

Many federal crimes are federal-only because they are connected with a country-wide federal issue, such as income tax evasion, mail fraud, importing drugs from overseas, counterfeiting of United States currency, aircraft hijacking, and treason. Other federal offenses have equivalents in state law and may be prosecuted in either state or federal courts at the discretion of prosecutors and depending on the particulars of each case. Examples include bank robbery in more than one state, interstate child pornography, and kidnapping across state lines.

Though rare, it is technically possible to be charged in both state and federal courts for charges stemming from the same underlying criminal activity. There is a concept called “double jeopardy” that usually prevents defendants from being prosecuted twice for the same crime, but there is a “separate sovereign” exception to this rule when the prosecutions are undertaken by two distinct governmental entities. Since state and federal governments are separate, you can theoretically be charged by both. The Supreme Court recently reviewed and upheld this dual-sovereignty exception to double jeopardy in Gamble v. United States, ruling in July 2019 that the exception is constitutionally permissible.

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Federal Sentencing and Punishment

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are promulgated each year by the United States Sentencing Commission. Though non-binding, federal judges almost always follow these guidelines closely when sentencing defendants for federal offenses. If a judge decides to depart from the sentencing guidelines by imposing a harsher or more lenient sentence, the judge must provide a written explanation as to why he or she thinks a different sentence is appropriate, as required by 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3553.

The sentencing guidelines assign a number to different kinds of offenses, up to a maximum of 43 for the most serious crimes, such as murder. The guidelines also give defendants a number 1-6 based on the seriousness, extensiveness, and recency of their criminal history. By looking at a sentencing table one can learn the suggested number of months imprisonment for any case by finding the point at which the relevant offense level and criminal history category intersect.

The base offense level can be raised depending on “specific offense characteristics”. For example, the sentence will be increased if a firearm was used in an aggravated assault or if a permanent or life-threatening injury resulted.

Special “adjustments” can also be made that might raise or lower the length of the punishment. For example, targeting a protected minority or an elderly or disabled victim can add points that increase the severity of the sentence. If the defendant’s role was minor or if they accepted responsibility for the crime, points can be subtracted that will result in a lighter sentence.

Aside from being overall much harsher than the penalties for state crimes, federal punishment also differs with regard to the amount of time that must actually be served for each sentence. In most cases, California state felonies can be served “2-for-1”, meaning that each day actually spent incarcerated really counts as two, so that usually you will only have to serve 50% of your sentence. For federal offenses, a minimum of 85% of your sentence must be served.

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Additional Resources

Federal Sentencing Guidelines, United States Sentencing Commission – Visit this site to view the Federal Sentencing Guidelines discussed above. The guidelines themselves are searchable and show different offense levels and adjustments. The sentencing table is also available to view, which shows the recommended number of months for different offenses depending on criminal history.

United States Code Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure – This is one of the most important sections of the federal laws where different federal crimes are defined. Most major federal crimes are found here, though some, like tax evasion in Title 26, are defined elsewhere. Title 18 also includes sections on criminal procedure, including a section on imposing federal sentences.

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