How Are Federal Crimes Classified?
A list of federal offenses and how they are categorized
If you face a criminal charge, that may be a charge on the state level, the federal level or both, since you can be charged for the same offense on state and federal levels. While most charges you may face are state charges, it’s important to know the difference between the two, as well as the classifications of federal crimes.
Primary federal offense categories
Some of the primary offense categories listed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for federal crimes include:
- Drug crimes: This federal category includes drug trafficking or distribution, particularly across state lines. It also includes drug manufacture, drug import-export, drug distribution near a school and drug distribution to a person under 21 years old.
- Violent crimes: This federal crime classification includes first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy to murder, and committing a felony crime with death resulting. It also includes voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, sexual abuse of a minor, and various assault and robbery charges.
- Property crimes: This federal crime category includes arson, auto theft, burglary and larceny, among other types of property crimes.
- White collar crimes: This category includes insider trading, fraud, deceit, violations of odometer laws, embezzlement, forgery, extortion, bribery, money laundering and tax offenses.
- Firearm crimes: This federal crime category includes illegal possession and transportation of firearms or ammunition, using firearms or ammunition during a crime, using explosives or fire to commit a felony, and possession of guns or explosives in a federal facility or school.
- Pornography: Possessing child pornography can be a serious federal offense, along with selling or buying children for pornography.
- Gambling/lottery: Federal offenses in this category include transmitting wagering information, engaging in a gambling business and interstate transportation of wagering paraphernalia.
- Kidnapping: This federal crime category includes ransom taking and the taking of hostages.
Federal crime FAQs
Are state and federal penalties and sentences different?
Yes. The punishments for federal and state crimes can be quite different.
A federal judge hearing a federal case of drug trafficking or child pornography, for instance, will use what are known as Federal Sentencing Guidelines to determine the penalty or punishment for such a serious offense. Again, these are guidelines, and they don’t necessarily mean each judge will hand down the same sentence for the same offense.
In a state court in Texas, state laws will apply, and punishments can include a range of fines or prison time indicated by state laws. A judge will decide whether an offense merits the minimum penalty, the maximum penalty, or somewhere in between. Such penalties may be different from those in Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
What’s the difference between a federal felony and a federal misdemeanor?
Some lesser federal offenses may be considered misdemeanors, while more serious offenses may be felonies.
Federal felonies are divided into five categories: A, B, C, D and E. A crime that’s a Class A federal felony is the worst, with a maximum prison term of life in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. A Class E federal felony involves a prison term of more than one year but less than five years and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Federal misdemeanors, on the other hand, are divided into three categories: A, B and C — with A being the worst. A Class A federal misdemeanor involves a prison term of one year or less, as long as it’s more than six months, and a maximum fine of $100,000. A Class C federal misdemeanor involves a prison term of 30 days or less, as long as it’s more than five days, and a maximum fine of $5,000.
What is an infraction?
An infraction is a lesser offense — also known as a “petty offense” — which might carry the punishment of a fine but not jail time. That’s because an infraction, such as a violation of an administrative regulation, isn’t considered a criminal offense that is punishable by serving a jail sentence.
Can I be charged for the same crime under federal and state laws?
Yes. A judicial exception to your constitutional protection against “double jeopardy” (meaning you cannot be tried twice for the same crime) allows state and federal charges for the same offense. That means you could be tried in state court and in federal court for a crime which violates state laws and federal laws.
However, this exception to double jeopardy may be ending. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case of Gamble v. United States, which challenges this practice.
Even if you face a federal charge and a state charge, you can only be tried for an offense once in federal court and once in state court.
Can I go to jail for a white collar crime?
Yes. For a so-called white collar crime — commonly a non-violent crime involving money such as forgery, embezzlement or money laundering — you can face jail time if you are convicted of a federal charge.
But not always.
For instance, veteran Houston white collar criminal defense lawyer Neal Davis recently gained probation, not prison, for his client in a federal telemarketing fraud case involving $300 million. In all, 21 defendants were charged, but only Davis’ client avoided prison time and instead received three years of probation. Others received prison sentences of up to 20 years.
In another recent case, our law firm was able to gain probation, not prison, for a client charged with the federal crime of misappropriation of money. Davis’ client had taken almost $290,000 in military pension checks which were sent to his deceased uncle for 20 years. Yet Davis gained leniency for his client in federal court.
Do I need to hire a defense lawyer?
Absolutely. Understanding the basic classifications of federal crimes and their possible punishments is a good start, but getting the best criminal defense lawyer is essential. You need a skilled, experienced and knowledgeable lawyer to handle your case — a lawyer with a proven track record and the professional honors to show it.
Houston criminal defense attorney Neal Davis is such a lawyer.
If you’re in the Houston area — including all of Harris County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County — get in touch with the Neal Davis Law Firm today for a confidential and no-obligation legal review of your case, whether it’s a federal crime or a state crime.