Texas Criminal Lawyer, John Helms Defines State and Federal Prosecution in Texas

As a former federal prosecutor, Dallas Federal Criminal Defense Attorney John Helms uses his experience to discuss the differences in Texas between a state and federal prosecution.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, you should expect your case to be very different from a state criminal case. In many cases, being charged with a federal offense means you should expect to face tougher penalties if you’re convicted. However, there are other differences you should know about which are just important.

Here are five ways in which a federal prosecution is different from a state prosecution, and why you should work with a Dallas criminal defense lawyer who has experience handling federal criminal cases if you’ve been charged with an offense in federal court.

Differences in How Prosecutors Work

At the federal level, prosecutors are known as United States attorneys, and their assistant lawyers are called assistant United States attorneys, or AUSAs for short. Generally, they have more resources than prosecutors who work at the state level. In addition to more resources, federal prosecutors also typically have fewer cases at any given time, which means more time to devote to each federal case.

By the time prosecutors at the federal level choose to file charges against an individual, it’s likely the prosecutors have already been investigating the person for quite some time. This is because federal crimes are typically more complex than committing a state crime. For example, a federal crime might cross state lines or even involve a crime or criminal enterprise operating in more than one country.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that state criminal charges in Texas aren’t serious. Rather, it’s important for people who have been charged with a federal crime to understand the severity of what they’re facing.

Judges in Federal Criminal Cases

When someone is charged with a felony in federal court, they can appear in front of a magistrate judge or a district judge. Magistrate judges are appointed to their position, and they operate under the guidance and supervision of a district judge. Magistrate judges in federal court serve for a specific length of time.

In addition to magistrate judges, there are also district judges in federal court. Each district judge in federal court is appointed by the President and then undergoes a confirmation process through the Senate. Unlike magistrate judges, district judges serve a lifetime appointment, and they can only be forced to leave office if they are impeached.

Differences with Bail and Pretrial Conditions

When you’re charged with committing a crime at the state level, bail is generally straightforward. In most cases, the defendant contacts a bail bondsman if they are unable to afford to post the money on their own. Once the defendant produces the bond money, they are free to go until their next hearing or trial.

However, bail is a bit more complicated at the federal level. This is because federal judges set bail, but they also require the defendant to satisfy certain conditions before they will agree to release the person prior to trial.

These pretrial conditions vary from case to case, but it’s common for judges to require people to make periodic check-ins with an officer. Additionally, the court might require the defendant to submit to certain kinds of testing, or to complete certain educational or training requirements.

In cases that involve a very serious crime, the judge might set pretrial conditions that require the person to stay on house arrest or wear an ankle-monitoring device. This is common in cases in which the court believes the defendant might pose a flight risk or would leave the country before they were scheduled to appear in court.

Differences with Juries

In a state criminal case, the jurors are typically chosen from the surrounding area, which encompasses a county. This means the jury is generally drawn from a local area.

At the federal level, a jury pool can encompass a much larger area compared to a state criminal court. This is because jurors in a federal case can be pulled from throughout the federal district, which can be a quite large demographic. In a number of states, there is only a single federal district, which means jurors can come from anywhere in the state.

Penalties of a Federal Court Conviction Result in Harsher Sentences

Generally speaking, the penalties for a conviction in federal court are more serious than those you would see in a state criminal case.  There is no parole in the federal system.  Federal judges are required to consider the recommendations of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and in some cases, there are mandatory minimum sentences with few exceptions.

If you have been charged with a crime in federal court, it’s important to work with a Texas criminal defense lawyer who knows how to handle federal criminal cases. These are complex cases that require a criminal defense lawyer in Dallas who has knowledge of federal criminal law and procedure. Your freedom and future could be at stake. As a former federal prosecutor and experienced federal criminal defense lawyer, attorney John Helms is uniquely qualified to handle cases involving complex federal crimes.  

Dallas Federal Criminal Defense Attorney John Helms

Phone: 214-666-8010