There are two sets of courts for criminal prosecutions in Oklahoma: state and federal courts. While the courts share power, each has its own system, courthouse, prosecutors, and judges. Federal judges are nominated by the president (approved by the senate), and serve in that capacity for life. Federal prosecutors are skilled and have more resources at their disposal than their state counterparts. Facing charges in federal court is significantly more serious than any criminal offense filed in state court, both in how the case will be tried and in the level of penalties that can be imposed. In a report issued United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report released last year, detailing the convictions during FY2012, 97% of all federal offenders pleaded guilty.
You may ask, what makes a crime federal rather than state? In short, federal crimes are those that break the federal legal code and state crimes break state laws. However, in a large number of cases, there is concurrent jurisdiction for the same crime, meaning the charges can be brought in either court. For example, possession of marijuana is a violation of both Oklahoma state and federal law. Technically, it can be charged in Oklahoma state court or federal court. However, you will not see many federal agencies pursuing investigations or arrests of a small amount of marijuana. Drug trafficking cases with large quantities of illegal drugs account for a significant percentage of federal cases, and defendants prosecuted federally for drug cases account for a large portion of inmates in federal correctional facilities. Of the 84,360 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced in fiscal year 2012, 30% were for drugs.
One other component to most federal criminal prosecutions is the requirement that the crime in question impact interstate commerce. Congress is granted the broad authority to regulate interstate commerce, which includes criminal activities that have a “substantial impact” on interstate commerce. While there has been a rapid expansion of what substantially impacts interstate commerce over the last fifty years, the Supreme Court did put a limit on Congress’ use of the commerce clause in the United States v. Lopez. The Court held that Congress overreached in passing the Gun-Free School Zones Act because the possession of a gun near a school zone was a local matter.
If you have questions regarding federal or state charges in Oklahoma, contact our Tulsa criminal defense attorneys by phone at (918)592-1144 for a consultation.