courthouse with american flagThis is the next post in a series of articles discussing the differences between state and federal criminal charges in Austin, Texas. The previous post provided an overview of the topics to be discussed in this series. It also stressed the importance of retaining an attorney with experience in the system in which you face charges. Not all attorneys are licensed to practice in the federal courts. It is important to engage a criminal defense lawyer who understands the different laws, procedures, and rules applicable to both systems to protect your legal rights. This article will delve deeper into the major differences between the state and federal court system.

The United States operates via a dual system of government, split between the federal government and the state governments. The federal government has its own laws and is responsible for enforcing them. Each state also maintains a separate set of laws and bears responsibility for their enforcement. Certain crimes can be federal and state offenses where the laws of the two systems overlap. Both the states and federal systems have their own respective court systems, with rules and procedures that are specific to each. If you violate a federal criminal law, charges against you will be brought in a Federal District Court and prosecuted by the U.S Department of Justice. State criminal offenses will be prosecuted in the appropriate state court. Federal judges are typically more strict when it comes to compliance with the applicable rules and procedures than is often seen in state courts. If facing federal charges, your defense attorney must be familiar with and strictly follow the requirements of the federal rules. Finally, sentences for federal crimes are often determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which may be more severe than sentences handed down in the state systems.  Finally, in federal court sentencing is done exclusively by judges, unlike Texas state court in which the defendant can elect jury punishment.

As mentioned earlier, attorneys are not automatically licensed to practice in the federal legal system. When choosing a defense attorney, one should understand if he faces charges in federal or state court and select a lawyer with the appropriate license to represent him. Furthermore, in light of the distinct differences in the rules and processes that may apply, it is imperative that a federal defense attorney have the experience needed to handle the federal case. Failure to comply could have a negative impact on the outcome. For example, an attorney’s failure to meet a strictly enforced deadline may prevent an accused from entering key evidence before a trial.

I am certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in criminal law and have over two decades of experience practicing in federal court In Austin and elsewhere in Texas. My office also serves the cities of Rollingwood, Round Rock, Elgin, Jonestown, Manor, Bee Cave, Lago Vista, Sunset Valley, Lakeway, Creedmoor, Georgetown, Cedar Park, Leander, and San Marcos, Texas. Call today to speak with an attorney.