What Is The Judicial Process?




State Versus Federal Charges There are multiple factors that dictate whether a criminal offense can be charged at the federal level as opposed to the state level. For either, you need a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in handling (1) those types of charges, and (2) at the state or federal level, whichever applies to your situation. The criminal defense attorneys at PRJ Law provide vigilant representation at both the state and federal levels and will aggressively defend your rights. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions concerning the difference between state and federal charges.

Who prosecutes what? The prosecuting party at the state level is the North Carolina District Attorney’s Office, frequently referred to as merely “the State.” DA’s offices are generally designated per county, or, for smaller counties, by districts composed of several counties. At the federal level, the United States Attorney’s Office is the prosecuting government agency. US Attorney’s Offices in North Carolina are divided up into three separate districts: the Western, Middle and Eastern Districts.

Why do some charges go federal and some don’t? Firstly, jurisdiction. In order to prosecute a case, the prosecuting body must have jurisdiction, or the power to regulate the relevant behavior—i.e., the crime took place in North Carolina, violating North Carolina laws, therefore giving North Carolina the power to prosecute that case. In order for the federal government to have jurisdiction, there must be a “nexus” between the crime and interstate commerce. They meet this nexus by showing, for example, that the gun possessed by a convicted felon was manufactured out of state. There are no firearms manufactured within the state of North Carolina, therefore any firearm by felon case here could feasibly be prosecuted at the federal level.

Which brings us to…discretion. Even if an offense can be charged at the federal level, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be. In each district, the US Attorney’s Office has an enormous amount of discretion in what cases they choose to prosecute. For example, charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon are a dime a dozen at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, which is operated by the State. However, the US Attorney’s Office also elects to prosecute some, but not all, firearm by felon cases. Factors that are generally said to go into which cases the federal government chooses to prosecute include the strength of the government’s case, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and any aggravating circumstances present in the case.


What about double jeopardy?

Can you be charged and convicted of the same crime in state and federal court?

Incredible as it may seem, yes, you technically can be. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that it is not double jeopardy for a person to be convicted at both the state and federal levels for the exact same offense conduct.

That being said, in many cases, one government will defer to the other in terms of going through with prosecution. For example, if you are being charged with firearm by felon by the feds, the State may elect not to go through with prosecuting you on their end. This varies wildly depending on the offense and the particular prosecutors involved and is one of the many reasons it is so important to have an attorney who practices both state and federal law defending you.

What are some other charges that may be prosecuted by the feds in North Carolina?

Criminal offenses that are frequently picked up by the US Attorney’s Office include, but are not limited to

  • White-collar offenses, such as tax evasion, identity theft, and money laundering
  • Drug offenses, including drug conspiracies, possession with intent to distribute, distribution, and sale
  • Firearm offenses, including firearm by felon, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or drug trafficking, and sale of illegal firearms
  • Child pornography offenses

How is federal sentencing calculated as opposed to state sentencing?

In some ways similar to the North Carolina sentencing charts, in federal cases there is a chart that lays out a person’s sentencing exposure based on the person’s prior criminal history, and the seriousness of the offense. However, the similarities end there.

To sentence someone in North Carolina court, you calculate that person’s criminal history points, find the class of felony or misdemeanor for which they are convicted, and line up the two to find the minimum ranges of months punishment. Unless there is a mandatory minimum or maximum otherwise set by statute, the sentence the grids provide is the only sentence the judge has the power to give you. In other words, North Carolina’s sentencing scheme is mandatory.

By contrast, the federal sentencing table is merely a guideline, which means the court has the discretion, or ability, to go above or beyond the range set out in the table. You can receive a departure or variance that is downward, or lesser than, the range in the table. This is something your attorney must usually request specifically from the court. However, this also means that the prosecutor can ask for an upward variance or departure. 

As with state cases, however, if a particular federal statute mandates a specific mandatory minimum or maximum sentence for that offense, that law controls and the Court has to sentence you according to the statute. 

Federal cases also vary wildly in countless other aspects from state cases, from how detention hearings are handled to how criminal history points are calculated. Whether you are facing state or federal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney who is seasoned in that area as soon as possible to protect your rights from the start. 


Class A offenses are deemed the most serious. They include murder in the first degree and the unlawful use of a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon of mass destruction. The maximum penalty for this type of offense is life in prison or death.


Along with Class A, other high-level felonies include Class B1 or B2, Class C, and Class D. Examples of offenses in these categories include: First-degree sexual offense Second-degree murder, Second-degree rape, First-degree kidnapping, Voluntary manslaughter, Armed robbery


Prison Sentences

Felony Classes A-D

Class A felony: death, or life with or without parole. Class B1 felony: 144 months to life without parole. Class B2 felony: 94 to 393 months. Class C felony: 44 to 182 months. Class D felony: 38 to 160 months.


This includes Class E, F or G offenses. Punishments for these crimes vary widely with some defendants receiving intensive and prolonged probation and others receiving long prison sentences. Certain drug trafficking crimes in this category carry mandatory minimum jail sentences.

Mid-Level Felonies

Child abuse Assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer Common-law robbery Assault with a deadly weapon Arson of public buildings Habitual impaired driving


Prison Sentences


Class E felony: 15 to 63 months Class F felony: 10 to 41 months Class G felony: 8 to 31 months


Class G and I offenses do not carry a mandatory minimum sentence that requires jail time. Often, probation, house arrest, community service or substance abuse counseling is imposed as punishment instead of jail time. Maximum penalty for a Class I offense is 24 months in jail

Low-Level Felonies

Class I offenses are the least serious. They include: Possession of marijuana Financial transaction card theft Forgery of notes, checks or securities Breaking or entering motor vehicles.


Prison Sentences


Class H felony: 4 to 25 months Class I felony: 3 to 12 months