In the United States we operate under a federalist form of government, meaning that we have a central governing body (the federal government) as well as smaller local governing bodies (state governments). Our judicial system also follows a federalist model. Although the U.S. Constitution is the supreme authority in the United States, laws can be passed and enforced at both the federal and state level. If you have been charged with a criminal offense it is important to understand which system you are being prosecuted under and how that system operates.
Both the federal government, through Congress, can pass laws in the U.S. By the same token, state governments may also pass legislation enacting laws. Neither Congress nor the individual state legislators may pass a law that violates the rights and protections afforded us in the U.S Constitution. States may pass laws that provide more protection than the Constitution but not less.
Just as both the federal and state governments may enact laws, each may enforce those laws. Federal laws are enforced by the “alphabet” agencies such the F.B.I., D.E.A., I.C.E., A.T.F., or I.R.S. At the state level, agencies such as the Massachusetts State Police or the Boston Police Department are charged with enforcing law. The nature of the crime allegedly being committed determines which agency investigates the crime. Federal tax fraud, for example, falls under the jurisdiction of the I.R.S.’s investigation unit just as immigration crimes are handled by I.C.E. A drink driver, on the other hand, will be arrested by the Boston Police or the Massachusetts State Police. Occasionally, federal and state law enforcement agencies will work together on a case.
As a general rule, the agency that made the arrest determines whether the offense is prosecuted at the state or federal level; however, in some cases a local agency will uncover a crime that has national implications in which case it will be taken over by the federal prosecutors.
The basic procedures involved in the prosecution of a crime are the same at the state and federal level; however, a federal prosecution tends to be much more formal in nature. More importantly, sentencing is very different in a federal crime than it is in a state crime. The federal sentencing guidelines are very detailed and leave less “wiggle room” than the state sentencing structure. Finally, a defendant sentenced for serve time in a federal prison is often required to serve more of his or her sentence than would be required at the state level because there is less opportunity for “good time” credit.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Massachusetts it is important that you consult with an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney right away to ensure that you understand the charges as well as the poten
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