State laws and federal laws do not always align. This makes it possible to face one of two different types of charges when accused of a crime in Arizona: state and federal. Understanding the difference between these types of charges is important. This distinction will decide which jurisdiction applies to your case, the language of the specific law that you allegedly broke and the potential penalties that you might be facing as a defendant.
A state crime refers to a violation of one of the Arizona Revised Statutes. It is a breach of a state-mandated law that might not be in effect in other states or exist on a federal level. Common examples of state crimes in Arizona include:
If an individual in Arizona acts outside of the confines of state law, such as by violating a statute in Title 13 – the Criminal Code, he or she will be arrested by state police officers and investigated by local law enforcement authorities. The individual will also be subject to state-mandated penalties and sentencing.
A federal crime in Arizona is an offense that is significant to federal law enforcement agencies, often due to the severity of the crime or a perceived threat to public safety. While the federal government can take an interest in any case it wants, federal criminal charges are most often brought for substantial crimes, such as white-collar crimes, treason, drug crimes, trafficking, child pornography and terrorism.
An individual in Arizona cannot be tried twice for the same crime. This means the case will either go through the Arizona state court or the federal court – not both. Federal laws always have the power to overrule state laws. If it appears that an individual has broken both a state and federal law, the case will most likely go to federal court if it is of federal interest. Otherwise, it will remain in the jurisdiction of the state courts.
In other cases, an individual may be within the confines of Arizona law but in violation of federal law. One example is Arizona’s medical marijuana law. This law legalizes the medicinal use of marijuana in Arizona; however, marijuana is still classified as an illicit (controlled) substance under federal law. This means that someone could potentially face federal charges for a marijuana offense despite not having broken a state law in Arizona.
State and federal crimes are different from each other in numerous ways. For example, at the state level, criminal investigators include Arizona State Troopers and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. At the federal level, a criminal investigation is performed by federal agents such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Another difference is in the appointment of the judge presiding over the case. When a state criminal case in Arizona goes to court, the judge is appointed by the governor and is subject to election. In a federal case, the judge has been appointed for life by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Finally, there are differences in how state vs. federal crimes are penalized. In Arizona, if a defendant already has a criminal history, this will result in harsher penalties for a subsequent conviction. The federal courts, on the other hand, work on a system that is closer to how the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division deals with traffic infractions. It uses a point system that determines the harshness of the sentence based on the number of points accumulated.