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Will My Case Be Prosecuted by the Federal Government or the State of Ohio?


As criminal defense attorneys who represent defendants in both the state and federal criminal justice system, our legal team at Friedman Nemecek Long & Grant, L.L.C., L.L.C. receives many questions from clients about whether their cases will be handled by the state of Ohio or the federal government. The answer, as with many things that involve the law, is that it depends.

Every criminal case is unique, and the facts and circumstances surrounding yours will impact whether it will be prosecuted by federal authorities or state or local prosecutors. One important issue to understand is the concept of concurrent jurisdiction:

  • Concurrent Jurisdiction – When it comes to criminal law, the state and federal government impose and enforce many of the same types of laws, meaning what’s illegal under state law is often illegal under federal law, with some exceptions and various differences. Prosecutors at the state and federal levels also have concurrent jurisdiction over many types of crimes, which provides them both with the ability to prosecute alleged offenders for certain offenses. While this may be the case, it simply wouldn’t be prudent or possible for the federal government to prosecute every crime, which is why most criminal cases in Ohio, and the U.S. for that matter, are handled by local or state prosecutors.

Determining when a case will be handled by the feds or the state is sometimes a straightforward matter. A case involving shoplifting or drug sales by a street dealer would typically be handled by the state criminal justice system. However, there are factors that go into the decision of whether federal prosecutors will take a case. Generally, the federal government focuses on offenses which:

  • Directly threaten the federal government or federal agencies (i.e. terrorism, counterfeiting);
  • Occur on federal property (i.e. a DUI at a national park);
  • Have interstate or international connections; or
  • Fit into a catch-all category that may include reasons ranging from requests by state authorities who lack the resources needed to handle a case and agreements reached with state prosecutors to cases that may be part of some larger investigation into a major criminal operation or higher level offender, among others.

In terms of how certain crimes are handled, the issue of interstate / international connections, meaning crimes which occur across state lines or international borders, is often one of the most important factors in a case. For example:

  • Drug Crimes – When drug crimes like trafficking involve multiple districts or states, federal law enforcement and agencies like the DEA are more likely to be involved in an investigation, as well as subsequent prosecution. Though some trafficking cases may be handled at the state level, those which involve smuggling or importation across international borders are often prosecuted by the federal government. Another important factor is the quantity of drugs involved, though it can be subjective.
  • White Collar Crimes – Forgery, money laundering, and other fraud-related offenses may be classified broadly as “white collar crimes,” but federal authorities usually have specific criteria for fraud cases they will handle. Offenses which span state lines or encompass multiple states are more likely to require enforcement resources from agencies like the IRS, SEC, or FBI. Like drug crimes where the scope of the operation is an important factor, the amount of money involved can also play a major role. U.S. Attorney’s Offices may have various minimum thresholds for prosecuting white collar crimes, but they typically handle those involving roughly $1 million or more in losses. However, each case is different.
  • Sex Crimes – Federal prosecutors typically handle cases involving sex offenses if prohibited conduct crossed state lines. A case where a minor is transported over state borders for the purposes of a sex offense is much more likely to be handled by the federal government than crimes involving alleged conduct which occurred in one place within the state. Perhaps the most variable crimes when it comes to state and federal jurisdiction are offenses involving child pornography. Both state and federal authorities actively investigate these offenses, and both prosecute defendants. One of the largest factors behind who gets the case has to do with which agency initiated the investigation, along with the scope of the alleged offense.

While every case is unique, it is important to understand how state and federal prosecutors “choose” the cases they handle, as well as whether there is any opportunity to have cases handled in state courts rather than the federal criminal justice system – which is notorious for overwhelming conviction rates and harsh sentencing policies. It is also crucial, especially when cases are being investigated or prosecuted as federal crimes, that you seek the immediate counsel of experienced attorneys.

Proven Defense Lawyers Protecting Your Rights

Attorney Ian N. Friedman and our legal team have extensive experience protecting the rights of clients in both state and federal courts throughout Ohio and the United States. Our insight and involvement can be crucial for those who wish to explore their available options and strategies for obtaining the best possible outcome, and can be especially important in the early stages of a case. Whether you or someone you love are under investigation or have already been charged, our team is here to fight for your freedom and future.

Learn more about cases involving state and federal authorities, or discuss a potential case and how our firm can help you, when you contact us for a confidential consultation.