What does a Federal Criminal Lawyer do?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 10 May 2019
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A federal criminal lawyer defends those individuals accused of federal crimes. This is a specialized field of law, as most crimes are handled on a state-by-state basis as opposed to at the federal level in the United States. When a person is accused of a federal crime, a federal criminal lawyer will represent him before the judge or jury and will help him try to win his case by either introducing doubt as to whether he committed the crime or by introducing an affirmative defense suggesting he did commit the crime but that he had legal justification for doing so.

The vast majority of criminal cases within the United States are handled in state court systems. Article III Section II of the United States Constitution stipulates that powers not expressly granted to the federal government were reserved for the states. Since the Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to make and enforce criminal law, each state has its own penal code. Some states have commonalities, as they may have adopted the Model Penal Code, but it is ultimately a choice left to the state. This means if someone commits murder, a felony, or some other crime, the state will decide what happens to him; each state can even have its own laws on capital punishment.


There are, however, certain limited crimes that are federal crimes and that are handled at the federal level. Tax evasion, for example, is a federal crime. Racketeering — or engaging in organized crime — is also a federal crime under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Committing a crime across state lines, such as bringing a prostitute across state lines in the car or taking a child across state lines to engage in child pornography, can also violate federal criminal statutes in some cases and as such may be tried in federal court.

When a case is a federal crime, a federal criminal lawyer will be called upon to defend the person accused of the particular crime. A federal criminal lawyer may be hired privately or, as in the case of a state court, appointed by the government if someone cannot afford an attorney. Because there is a more limited array of federal crimes, and those that are federal crimes tend to be serious, a federal criminal lawyer must be experienced and practiced within the type of crimes he is defending people accused of committing. He also must be sworn in to practice at the federal level in federal criminal court; this can occur upon recommendation of an attorney in good standing.



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