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What is the Difference Between Federal and Florida Criminal Courts?


Amid the confusion and chaos that ensues when you are arrested for a crime in Florida, you may not focus on whether you will be facing the charges in state or federal court. As you worry about the potential punishment for a conviction, such as fines, imprisonment, and other penalties, you are probably not concerned with the differences. However, the distinction is an important one for many reasons, since there are different strategies, defenses, and procedural rules that impact proceedings in state versus federal courtrooms.

Therefore, depending on your specific circumstances, you may need a Florida criminal defense attorney who covers state and federal cases. You do not need to memorize the details that make the processes different, but you should get a general understanding of what to expect.

Comparing State Versus Federal Court Systems: The American criminal justice system consists of two separate, sometimes overlapping structures at the state and federal levels. Both share the same basic components:

  1. Legislators who pass criminal laws;
  2. The executive branch that enforces criminal statutes; and,
  3. The judiciary, which interprets criminal laws. 

The distinction between federal and state is the set of laws that applies to a case. A criminal offense committed within Florida, which is a violation of state law, will fall under the jurisdiction of state courts. A case is federal if the crime:

  • Violates a statute enacted by Congress;
  • Reaches across US state borders;
  • Occurred on federal property; or,
  • Meets other criteria designated by law. 

Penalties in Federal and Florida Criminal Court Cases: The two systems share another characteristic in the sense that both classify crimes as misdemeanors or felonies, with sub-classes in each category. For instance, there are five classes of felonies and three grades of misdemeanors under US law. Florida criminal statutes provide for two degrees of misdemeanors and four felony levels. As a comparison of the different systems in terms of sentencing, note that:

  • Murder and several other felonies under both Florida and US law are punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.
  • A conviction for lesser felonies under federal law could lead to a prison sentence ranging from 1 to 25 years or more.
  • You could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of a First Degree Felony in Florida and a maximum of 15 years for a Second Degree Felony.
  • For all federal felony convictions, you could be fined up to $250,000.

Call a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer for Legal Assistance

This information may help you understand the key distinctions between state and federal criminal courts, and why it is important to work with legal counsel that suits your situation. Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik is prepared to handle your case, with a license to practice in Florida state courts, as well as the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. For additional details, please contact our Fort Lauderdale office to set up a consultation today.


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