Sex Offenses Law

What Are Differences Between State and Federal Sex Crimes?

This content contains sensitive subject matter related to legal defense for crimes of a sexual nature.

Sex crimes are a type of crime that can be charged both on the federal and state level. Sometimes a charge, like child pornography possession, may start out being charged in state court but later be charged out on a federal level based upon the various factors; a couple can include if the crime is on federal property or if it involves illegal activity in more than one state which can include the internet.

State and federal laws for sex offenses can be different, even for the same activity. If you are facing an investigation for possible sex crime charges, find out about your legal rights and defense options by talking to an experienced sex crime defense attorney.

When Is a Sex Crime a Federal Offense?

Criminal violations may be federal offenses if the federal government has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction means that the federal court has the power to decide a case. A federal court generally gets jurisdiction when the crime goes beyond the state. Types of federal sex crime cases may include:

  • International human trafficking
  • Transporting a minor across state lines for sexual exploitation
  • Sexual assault on federal property

If the crime involves using the internet or interstate commerce, it could also fall under the federal level. Online sex trafficking or sharing child pornography over the internet could be treated as federal offenses.

Federal and State Sex Crime Investigations

Criminal cases at the state level are often investigated by police officers and local law enforcement. Federal investigations can involve the use of specialized federal agencies, including:

Federal agencies may sometimes work with international law enforcement agencies in investigating sex crimes, including the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

Federal and State Sex Crime Penalties

State crimes are prosecuted by state district attorneys, and the cases are heard in state court. In the federal court system, the cases are prosecuted by federal prosecutors before federal judges.

If convicted for state charges, you could face time in county jail for a misdemeanor offense. Felony offenses may include state prison terms of more than a year. For federal cases, the defendant may be sentenced to time in federal prison.

The penalties for federal sex crimes generally fall under the federal sentencing guidelines. Federal sentencing guidelines provide uniform sentencing for criminal convictions. According to a 2019 United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) report, nearly half of all convicted child pornography offenders were 41 or older.

There may be mandatory minimum sentences for felony sex offenses. However, factors can increase or decrease penalties within the guidelines, including:

  • Prior criminal record
  • Age of the victims
  • Number of victims
  • Use of violence
  • Relationship to the victim

A conviction for state or federal sex crimes can require sex offender registration. The sex offender registry is a way for the public to find out about sex offenders in their area, including their criminal history, name, age, photograph, and where they live.

Can I Be Charged with State and Federal Charges?

In some cases, you could be charged with both state and federal charges for the same offense. The Fifth Amendment protects people from double jeopardy, where they can’t be prosecuted more than once for the same offense. However, that may not apply when someone is charged with separate state and federal charges.

If a sex crime violates both state and federal law, the state and federal governments can prosecute the individual in their own courts. Most of the time, if charged in both places, the federal prosecutor will take over, but it depends on the seriousness of the offense and if it meets the factors required to be heard in federal court. If your case is charged in federal court, remember your lawyer has to be admitted to practice law in the federal courts.

If you are under investigation for a sex crime at the state or federal level, get advice from a criminal defense attorney about your rights. A federal sex crimes defense lawyer can defend you against federal sex offense charges.

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