The classification of crimes can be confusing. Many factors are considered when a crime is being categorized, such as when and where it took place, how many people were involved, how old they were, whether weapons were involved, and more. Classifying a crime gets even more complicated when figuring out whether it should be considered a state crime, a federal crime, or both. Many people believe that any offense labeled as a federal crime must be a felony. However, this is not explicitly the case.
What Is a Federal Crime?
The basic definition of a federal crime is one that breaks federal United States law(s). The crime was made illegal by federal legislation, not necessarily by state legislation. For an act to be made illegal at the federal level, legislation must pass through both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, then it must be signed into law by the sitting president.
There are fewer federal crimes than state crimes because, for a federal law to be passed, it must involve a national interest that is at stake. However, the definition of national interest is quite broad. The types of crimes the federal government has authority over include:
- Crimes that take place on federally owned land, such as national parks
- Crimes that involve federal employees or officers, such as an assault or battery charge against a member of the military
- Crimes that involve any deceit of the federal government or a federal agency, including tax fraud on a federal level
- Crimes where the person committing the crime did so in multiple states, such as moving illegal drugs across state lines
- Crimes involving multiple people in different states, such as Internet crimes that scam people out of money
- Crimes involving illegal entry into the country
- Crimes in which illegal items, such as drugs or firearms, are brought into the country
There are federal felonies and federal misdemeanors, and the consequences for each depend on the severity, whether it’s the person’s first offense, and other factors.
What Are Federal Misdemeanors?
Federal misdemeanors are crimes that still break federal law but are much less severe than federal felonies. However, the consequences for federal misdemeanors can still be severe, including potential prison time and probation or expensive fees. When a misdemeanor crime is prosecuted in federal court, the consequences cannot exceed a prison sentence of 1 year.
Federal misdemeanors are broken into the following 3 categories:
- Class C Misdemeanors: These crimes are punishable by a jail sentence between 5 and 30 days, as well as a fine of $5,000
- Class B Misdemeanors: These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence between 30 days and 6 months as well as a fine of $5,000
- Class A Misdemeanors: These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence between 6 months and 1 year, as well as a fine of $10,000
Misdemeanors in classes B and C are often called “petty offenses” and result in less severe consequences. If an offense carries a penalty of 5 or less days in jail, it is called an “infraction” and is not technically a misdemeanor.
Examples of Federal Misdemeanors
There are hundreds of examples of federal misdemeanors, ranging from agricultural crimes to veteran fraud crimes. Here are some of the most common:
- Drunk Driving: Drunk driving can be treated as both a state and federal crime. If a drunk driver is caught crossing state lines, they will receive a federal misdemeanor.
- Online Bullying/Stalking: If someone is consistently bullying or stalking someone who lives in another state, they will be charged with a federal misdemeanor.
- Resisting Arrest: If someone resists attempted arrest by a federal officer, or disobeys their orders in any way, they will face a federal misdemeanor.
- Trespassing and Vandalism: A person who trespasses on federal land or destroys property that belongs to the federal government will be charged with a federal misdemeanor. If the vandalism was done intentionally, they may face enhanced penalties.
Are There Other Consequences for Federal Misdemeanors?
Being convicted of a federal misdemeanor can result in severe punishment, which could include more than jail time and fines. Other consequences could include job loss, security clearance loss, suspension of driver’s license, and the social stigma of their conviction. While the court-imposed consequences may end relatively quickly, the societal consequences are more difficult to shake.
What Are Federal Felonies?
Federal felonies differ from state felonies in that they involve breaking federal law, similarly to federal misdemeanors. There are 5 levels of federal felonies, each with consequences relative to the severity of the crime:
- Class E Felony: These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence of 5 years or less.
- Class D Felony: These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence between 5 and 10 years.
- Class C Felony: These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence between 10 and 25 years.
- Class B Felony: These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence of more than 25 years.
- Class A Felony: These crimes are punishable by a possible life sentence in prison and even the death penalty. They are the most serious.
Examples of Federal Felonies
- Violent crimes against children
- Sex crimes against children
- Use of fire or explosives to destroy federal property
- Engaging in a human trafficking ring, especially if it takes place across state lines
- Murder committed in a federal facility
- Advocating to overthrow the government
As with federal misdemeanors, these crimes have severe legal consequences, but they have intensive social and economic consequences as well. People with federal felony convictions may have difficulties finding employment, travelling, and even securing housing.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you have been charged with a federal misdemeanor or felony, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today. With over 20 years of experience litigating such crimes, our lawyer is ready to hear your case. Attorney Cherella provides empathetic, one-on-one representation and has successfully defended many in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Reach out today at (414) 882-8382 or via our contact form.