In every state, there are two sets of laws that lay out what is criminal behavior and what is not. For instance, in Texas, we have:

  • The Texas Penal Code, which governs state criminal law, and

  • The United States Code, which governs all federal law, including criminal. 

For the most part, the two codes deem the same activities illegal, though occasionally there are differences between the two. 

For instance, the state of Colorado has legalized the consumption of marijuana, while the federal government has not. In this case, it is up to the discretion of the federal government whether or not it wants to overrule state law, as federal law always trumps state law. So, yes, if you smoke a joint in Oregon or California, even though cannabis is legally sold there, you are technically breaking federal law. At this time, the U.S. government is just choosing not to enforce it. 

All that said, the main difference between a federal and state crime in Texas is in who prosecutes the case. This is because both branches have entirely different systems of prosecutors, judges, and even prisons. 

Who Prosecutes What Crime, And When

The most common crimes in Texas, such as DWI or assault, are usually prosecuted by the state. Most criminal cases are, in fact, handled in state court. 

However, the federal government will be the prosecutor if the alleged crime:

  • Was committed in more than one state

  • Affected interstate commerce (such as a serious, multi-state drug crime)

  • Occurred on federal property

Examples of federal crimes include: 

  • Mail fraud

  • Tax fraud

  • Money laundering 

  • Cyber-crimes, including child pornography

  • Bank robbery 

  • Immigration related offenses, such as illegal reentry

  • Drug conspiracy

  • Human trafficking

  • Federal weapons charges 

Federal prosecutors tend to focus on complex, felony-level crimes that involve large amounts of money and/or coordination. 

Federal crimes are very serious, and if you’ve been accused of one, it is essential that you hire a lawyer who is licensed to practice federal law. Remember, not all criminal defense attorneys in Texas are certified to practice both state and federal law. However, Chris Perri is. 

If You’ve Been Arrested, How Do You Know Which System Is Prosecuting You?

When a person is first arrested for a crime in Texas, they are booked into the local county jail while awaiting magistration. This is a meeting, held in court, between a judge and defendant. Usually, magistration happens within a couple of hours following a person’s arrest, but sometimes it can take a day or two, depending on the severity of the charge. 

During magistration, the judge will inform the defendant of whether the federal or state government is charging them with a crime. At this time, the judge will also inform the defendant of their constitutional rights, as well as set the conditions of their bond. (For information about how to bail someone out of jail, click here.)

How Federal and State Procedures Differ 

Another main difference between federal and state criminal procedures in Texas is speed. Federal courts have fewer cases and tend to move much more quickly. Because of less volume, federal judges can exercise tighter control of their dockets. 

Federal court also tends to be more formal and regimented. For instance, in state court, you can sometimes reschedule court appearances, while in federal court, a reset is almost never granted without filing a formal motion for continuance.

Though it depends on the actual crime, federal convictions generally carry harsher punishments than state convictions. For example, federal judges rarely grant probation.

Another difference: federal prisons are considered to have better living conditions and programs than Texas prisons. However, Texas prisons allow many incarcerated people to finish their sentences out on parole, while federal prisons do not.

Federal and State Criminal Appeals Processes Differ, Too   

Anyone who is convicted of a crime, regardless of which court they are in, may consider appealing their verdict. The appellate process is similar in both federal and state court, though the deadlines to apply differ. 

If you plan to appeal a state-level conviction, you have 30 days from the date of the judgment to notify the Texas courts of your intent to appeal.

However, if the conviction occurred in federal court, you have only 14 days to notify them of your decision to appeal. 

Though it can be daunting after a guilty verdict to think about next steps, it’s important to act fast and hire a proven criminal defense appellate lawyer in Texas, such as Chris Perri. If you miss these deadlines — 14 days for Federal court, and 30 days for State court, then you will never be able to appeal your case in the future. 

You can, however, still try to overturn your conviction through a complicated process called a writ of habeas corpus. To learn more about appeals and writs, click here. 

How Chris Perri Law Can Help

An award-winning attorney with 15+ years of experience, Chris Perri has successfully helped countless clients facing state and federal criminal charges. Furthermore, he has extensive experience helping those wrongfully convicted reverse their convictions through both appeals and writs of habeas corpus. 

No matter your situation, if you need a criminal defense lawyer in Texas, Chris Perri Law can help. Call (512) 269-0260 or visit to schedule a free case consultation today.