Facing Both State and Federal Court Charges

Many defendants face charges in both federal and state courts. When this happens, complex issues arise involving jail credit, the development of defenses and sentencing, and skilled Raleigh federal criminal defense attorneys can help navigate these issues to protect the accused from pitfalls that can lead to increased sentences or even double punishment. When a case is charged in state court in North Carolina, it means that the state has brought the charges. Similarly, cases in federal court are brought by the United States Attorney’s Office and the person charged has been accused of breaking a federal law. Charges can be brought at either the state or federal levels or both, depending on the circumstances and the criminal activity involved. A federal charge is not necessarily more serious than a state charge (although the potential punishments are often greater in federal court), but when a person is charged in both state and federal court, the person often faces complications not present in a normal case. For example, the accused may face a wider variety of charges requiring the development of additional defenses, and the penalties in state and federal court may or may not overlap, meaning that the real possibility exists that the accused may face double punishment for the same offense. Other complications arise from the different sentencing procedures. Below are a few of the complications that need to be worked out by a criminal defendant and the defense attorney in a case where the accused is charged in both state and federal court. Custody Issues The first step to take when facing federal and state charges in a case where the defendant is in jail is to determine which jurisdiction will exercise primary custody. Primary custody determines whether the accused will get credit against any sentence for time served in jail prior to trial or plea. If the accused is first arrested on the state charges, it is unlikely that he or she will received credit for time served in jail to reduce an eventual federal sentence. When possible, it is important to consult with Raleigh federal criminal defense attorneys early on in a case to try to ensure that any time spent in custody will count towards a sentence in the event of a conviction. Sentencing Issues The federal and state sentencing structures differ dramatically, as do the practices in those courts regarding plea bargaining. For example, in state court in North Carolina, the Structured Sentencing provisions control and require that a sentence be within a certain range based on the class of the offense—with Class A felonies requiring life in prison or the death penalty and Class H and I felonies requiring probation or short prison sentences for those with light criminal records. In federal court, on the other hand, the judge must consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines in fashioning the sentence, but the judge, in most cases, can sentence the defendant to whatever sentence the judge determines is appropriate under the facts up to a maximum set by law (usually 5, 10 or 20 years). Moreover, in state court, the government does not generally conduct a detailed pre-sentence investigation (except in Chatham County where a pilot program is underway). In federal court, the pre-sentence investigative process is lengthy, detailed and very important for the outcome of the sentencing. It is therefore important to consult with Raleigh federal criminal defense attorneys when faced with possible charges in both state and federal court. Select the Right Attorney to Represent You in Both Courts A variety of custody and sentencing issues can crop up when a person has been charged with criminal activity at both the state and federal levels. An attorney who is familiar with both courts can help you prevent pitfalls and can provide a thorough defense in both arenas. At Cheshire, Parker, Schneider & Bryan, our Raleigh federal criminal defense attorneys represent clients in both the state and federal courts and help determine how best to navigate complexities involved in dual jurisdiction cases.
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