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David Cohen Aug. 9, 2022

The Difference Between Pennsylvania State and Federal Criminal Charges

If you’re facing arrest for an incident involving violations of both federal and state law, you’re undoubtedly worried about the difference between state and federal charges and whether you can face prosecution for both simultaneously. This article will discuss the difference between Pennsylvania’s federal and state criminal charges. A skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney experienced in federal and state court can guide you through the process. 

State Charges 

 Criminal charges in Pennsylvania involve those crimes where the state has an interest in protecting and regulating the people. Most crimes are state crimes, and in most cases, you’ll face criminal charges at the state level. State crimes include murder, assault, robbery, theft, arson, and many others. In Pennsylvania, our legislature enacted laws to prohibit these crimes, and if violated, the state has the power to decide these cases. 

Federal Charges 

Federal criminal charges typically involve a crime where the federal government has an interest. Whether something involves a “federal interest” is a broad definition but often includes: 

  • Crimes that happen on federal land or that involve federal officials like crimes that happen on a U.S. military base; 

  • Crimes that cross state lines, such as kidnapping or transporting drugs across states; 

  • Crimes that happen across two or more states, such as internet or wire fraud or mail fraud; 

  • Violations of immigration and customs laws; and 

  • Crimes involving fraud or deception against the U.S. government or a federal agency, such as counterfeiting, Medicaid fraud, tax fraud, or fraud in a contract with the federal government. 

Overlapping Federal and State Charges 

In some cases, an incident or arrest may involve both state and federal crimes, and you could face charges in either state court, federal court, or both. Crimes involving federal and state laws include charges such as kidnapping, drug distribution, and bank robbery. However, in some cases, federal authorities defer to the state to prosecute crimes violating federal and state law. 

Under Pennsylvania law, if the federal government prosecutes you for a crime, the state can’t also prosecute you at the state level if the federal and state laws you allegedly violated prohibit the same type of harm. See 18 Pa. C.S. § 111 (1972). However, federal law doesn’t contain the same prohibition. In many cases, the federal government may, if it chooses to do so, prosecute you for violating federal law after you’ve already faced charges for the same incident in state court. 

Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer 

Whether you’re facing federal or state criminal charges, you need the guidance of a skilled criminal defense lawyer, particularly one with experience in both federal and state courts. Attorney David Cohen is a seasoned criminal defense attorney with years of experience representing clients in Pennsylvania’s federal and state courts. Find out how he can help you too. Contact us online or call us at (484) 218-4654 to schedule a consultation.


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