If you're facing criminal charges in Texas and federal courts, you're undoubtedly worried about what might happen. Can you go to trial in two courts for the same crime? Can you hire the same lawyer for both? You can face both federal and state charges for the same crime in Texas. But you'll need a lawyer who is an expert in criminal defense, with extensive experience in both federal and state court by your side.
Federal Versus State Jurisdiction
Whether you face state or federal criminal charges largely depends on the statute you've allegedly violated. In Texas, the state penal code defines criminal conduct. It includes many "state crimes," such as murder, sexual assault, driving while intoxicated, or assault. These crimes are typically prosecuted solely by the state of Texas and investigated by state or local police and sheriff departments. The state handles most of the criminal cases in Texas.
But the United States Code also defines criminal conduct and actions that violate federal law. Some examples of federal crimes include:
- Internet crimes,
- Drug trafficking,
- Immigration violations,
- Money laundering,
- Mail fraud, and
- Violating federal tax laws.
If you violate federal law, the federal government will prosecute the crime through the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and federal agencies will investigate the case, including the:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation,
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency,
- Internal Revenue Service,
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives,
- Securities and Exchange Commission,
- Department of Homeland Security, and
- Securities and Exchange Commission
The federal government also has jurisdiction in some specific situations, including when:
- The crime happened in more than one state,
- The crime happened on federal property, or
- The crime affected interstate commerce
But while the state of Texas and the federal government have some specific crimes where only the state or only the federal government will have jurisdiction, many crimes overlap, violating both state and federal law. When a crime violates both Texas and federal law, the federal government will often take priority if it is a complicated crime at the felony level, involves large amounts of money, or involves complex criminal enterprises. But in some cases, the state of Texas will also decide to prosecute, typically after the federal government. In these cases, you could face federal and state court charges for the same course of action.
Federal Versus State Criminal Process
The state and federal criminal prosecution processes are quite different. While an investigation by a federal agency and state or local police might look similar, in the federal system, the U.S. Attorney's office will decide whether to prosecute you for a federal crime. After making that decision, felony charges must go through a grand jury under both state and Texas law.
- Federal Grand Jury A federal grand jury consists of impartial citizens who can hear evidence and subpoena witnesses. Federal agents may seek evidence from targets of the investigation and third parties. The grand jury will then hear testimony from witnesses and see the physical evidence. Ultimately, they must decide whether a crime happened and who may have committed it. If the grand jury determines there is probable cause to believe an individual committed a crime, they will issue an indictment charging them with the crime.
- State Grand Jury Under Texas state law, "no person shall be held to answer for a [felony] criminal offense, unless on an indictment of a grand jury." Tex. Const. Art. 1, § 10. The state grand jury functions in much the same way as a federal grand jury, as neutral arbiters to determine whether there is probable cause to believe an individual committed a crime and hand down an indictment.
- Speed and Formality While Texas and federal criminal cases operate in basically the same manner, federal court prosecutions typically happen much faster. Federal courts handle fewer cases and will proceed more quickly, giving you less time for discovery and pre-trial motions. Attorneys often refer to U.S. District Courts, where federal cases proceed, as "rocket dockets." Federal courts are also more formal and structured than state courts. Even rescheduling a court hearing often takes a formal motion from your attorney.
- Sentencing and Incarceration Federal crimes tend to carry stiffer penalties than state crimes, and federal judges often have little leeway in sentencing. For example, federal judges are much less likely to sentence someone to probation. And, while federal prisons are known for having better living conditions than state prisons, Texas prisons often allow prisoners to complete sentences while on parole. Parole is much less likely at the end of a federal criminal sentence.
Because of these differences between state and federal courts, you need a criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in handling both federal and state cases in Texas. In most cases, you'll want the same attorney, familiar with the facts and circumstances of your case, handling your defense in both courts.
You Need an Attorney Experienced in Both Federal and State Cases
If you're facing federal and state prosecutions for the same crime, you need an expert in criminal defense law to represent you as soon as possible. An attorney well-versed in handling both federal and state claims can guide you through the process and manage the fast pace of federal court criminal procedure. You don't want a lawyer who rarely handles criminal cases in federal court.
Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense and holds Board Certifications in both specialty areas of the law. In fact, Doug is one of only two Texas attorneys with board certifications in both these areas of the law. His experience in both federal and state court makes him a sought-after attorney to handle complex criminal defense cases.
Doug's peers in the legal community also hold him in high esteem. Best Lawyers in America, an award from U.S. News & World Report, recently named Doug a "Lawyer of the Year" for Houston DWI defense for 2023. Doug earned this recognition through the nominations of his fellow attorneys in the Houston area. Doug and the skilled team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm have been defending Texans in federal and state court for years, and they can help you too. Give the Doug Murphy Law Firm a call at 713-229-8333 or contact them online to schedule your consultation.