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When you are charged with a crime, numerous factors determine the steps you need to take to protect yourself and the defenses you have available. One major factor is whether your case is pending in state or federal court. State and federal criminal cases are very different, and you must tailor your defense strategy to the specific laws and procedures involved.
Entire books have been written about state and federal criminal practice. Criminal defense lawyers devote their whole careers to gaining insights into – and improving – the state and federal judicial systems. With this in mind, here is a brief introduction to five significant differences between state and federal criminal cases in New Jersey:
In New Jersey, state criminal cases can be tried in either Municipal Court or Superior Court. Municipal Courts handle cases involving disorderly persons offenses, while Superior Courts handle cases involving indictable crimes. There are multiple Municipal Courts and Superior Courts located in cities throughout New Jersey.
Federal criminal cases are tried in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Although New Jersey technically only has one federal district court, it has three federal courthouses located in Camden, Newark and Trenton.
In state criminal cases, the government is represented by prosecutors from the County Prosecutors’ Offices located throughout the state. These County Prosecutors’ Offices are part of the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice. In federal cases, the government is represented by Assistant United States Attorneys, who fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The procedures in state and criminal cases are vastly different. For example, while state criminal cases generally begin with an arraignment, in federal court, prosecutors bring charges by filing criminal information or seeking a grand jury indictment.
If your case is pending in state court, you face a charge (or multiple charges) under the New Jersey Statutes Annotated (NJSA). If your case is pending in federal court, you face a charge (or multiple charges) under the U.S. Code. While some types of crimes can be charged at either the state or federal level, the offense’s specific elements (and thus the available defenses) are determined based upon which body of law applies.
Just as criminal charges vary between the state and federal levels, the sentences for criminal charges vary as well. In New Jersey state court, maximum sentences are generally based on the crime’s classification (i.e., as a disorderly persons offense or as a first, second, third or fourth-degree indictable crime). At the federal level, some statutes impose specific sentences for specific offenses. In contrast, the sentences for other crimes are determined based on the general sentencing provisions of the Crimes and Criminal Procedure title of the U.S. Code. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are used to determine the sentencing ranges in many federal criminal cases as well.
At Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers are experienced in representing individuals in state and federal court. If you face charges, we encourage you to call 877-435-6371 or contact us online promptly to schedule a confidential initial consultation.
Don’t let your rights be jeopardized.