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What Are The Differences Between Federal And State Crimes?

Most criminal prosecutions in the country are state prosecutions because they largely involve violations of state laws. However, federal criminal laws passed by Congress can also be violated, and when this happens, they are referred to as Federal Crimes.

Federal crimes generally involve investigations and prosecutions done by federal agencies according to the federal rules of criminal procedure. In contrast, state crimes are handled by state agencies such as county and city prosecutors, judges, and police departments according to Arizona rules of criminal procedure.

Most crimes are tied to violation of state criminal laws; hence, it may be rather confusing to differentiate between both crimes, especially because of the possibility of having a crime committed under both state and federal laws.

Hence, federal laws have Jurisdiction over crimes addressed in the federal criminal law, offenses committed on a federal property, crimes committed across multiple states borders and crimes investigated by any of the 8 primary divisions of federal law enforcement. These include the;

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF);
  • Department of Homeland Security;
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA);
  • U.S. Secret Service; and the U.S. Marshall Service.

Such crimes may include;

  • Drug trafficking;
  • Illegal immigration
  • White-collar crime
  • Organized crime
  • Computer fraud or hacking;
  • Counterfeiting currency, etc.

Arizona State crimes constitute offenses such as Murder, Burglary, Armed robbery, Theft, Assault, battery, Kidnapping, and Sexual assault. They are offenses consistent with the crimes addressed in Arizona criminal law. Local agencies generally handle them because they involve residents and local victims.

Some of these state agencies include; Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, Arizona State Capitol Police, Criminal Investigations Division (CID), Arizona Office of Inspector General (OIG), etc.

How Does the Arizona Court System Differ From the Federal Court System?

The Arizona Court system comprises The Supreme Court, The Court of Appeals, The Superior Court(the trial court of general Jurisdiction), the Tax Court, The justice of Peace Court, and the Municipal Court.

The Federal court system comprises district courts (the trial court), circuit courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States.

The primary difference between both court systems is their Jurisdiction. Federal courts have limited Jurisdiction in comparison to state courts. Federal courts can only hear cases authorized by the constitution or federal statutes.

While the Superior court is the trial court in the Arizona Court system, the District Court is the trial court in the federal system.

The district courts have a Federal District judge appointed by the President and confirmed for a life term by the Senate, while in the state of Arizona, Judges are appointed for four-year terms and must sit for re-election.

Also, Federal crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys and investigated by federal agencies and officials such as FBI or DEA agents. State crime investigations are conducted by local law enforcement agencies and prosecuted by state district attorneys or city attorneys.

As a general rule, there are fewer federal prosecutions than there are state prosecutions. Hence, they take longer to resolve and carry harsher penalties than state prosecutions.

How Many Federal Courts Are There In Arizona?

The State of Arizona has one Federal District Court; it is the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. This is the only federal judicial district in the state.

The Court is divided into 3 divisions;

  • The Phoenix Division which comprises counties Gila, La Paz, Maricopa, Pinal, and Yuma
  • The Prescott Division, which comprises counties Apache, Coconino, Mohave, Navajo, and Yavapai
  • The Tuscan Division which comprises counties Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, and Santa Cruz.

The district court is held at four different locations, including;

The U.S District Court of Flagstaff;
123 N. San Francisco Street,
Suite 200
Flagstaff, AZ 86001

The U.S District Court of Phoenix
401 W. Washington St.,
Suite 130, SPC 1
Phoenix, AZ 85003–2118

The U.S. District Court of Yuma
98 West 1st Street
Yuma, AZ 85364

The U.S District Court of Tucson
405 W. Congress Street,
Suite 1500
Tucson, AZ 85701–5010

Are Federal Cases Public Record?

TheNixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.435 U.S. 589 (1978) provides that agency records controlled by the Federal Government are subject to partial or full disclosure to members of the public upon request.

It requires transparency from all federal agencies by providing access to these records in a timely fashion when a request is made.

However, citizens don’t have an absolute right of access as some records may be sealed or exempted by law.

Individuals may be denied access if the data requested is unavailable, if the request made is vague and nonspecific.

Access may also be denied if the act of disclosing a record may potentially invade a party’s privacy due to the presence of highly personal or sensitive information within the record.

The Court may also seal or restrict access to a record if the disclosure affects a defendant’s trial.

Records that are considered public and may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How To Find Federal Court Records Online

Inquirers in Arizona may access Federal Court records online using the electronic filing system called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). By using this system, members of the public can access cases and docket information generated within Federal District courts in the state. Although, users will be required to open a PACER account to use this service.

Knowing where a court case was filed eases a search for records. However, if the inquirer is unsure what federal court or court division filed a case, the PACER Case Locator may be used to conduct nationwide searches.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) also maintains electronic records of federal criminal cases with a vast database of over 200 years of federal court proceedings. However, federal court records that are less than 15 years old are in possession of individual courts or the PACER databases. Hence, inquirers may query the courts directly for access to these records.

How Do I Find Federal Court Records In Arizona?

Typically, individual courts maintain records that are less than 15 years old and court records created before 1999; which are maintained in paper format only. These records are available on request from the Federal District Court in Arizona.

All records from August 2005 are available in electronic formats and on the PACER database. But records before that time are maintained by the Clerk’s office for 5 years after the case has been resolved or dismissed.

The Clerk’s office will grant access to records and provide copies for a fee of $.50 per page, which must be paid in advance.

Idle records are sent to the Federal Records Center but remain available on request with the help of the District Court Clerk for a fee of $64.00.

Phoenix Clerk’s Office:
(602) 322–7200
Tucson Clerk’s Office:
(520) 205–4200

Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed In Arizona?

Dismissing criminal cases in federal courts are guided by Rule 48 of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure. The function of dismissal is to primarily allow efficient administration of justice by expelling any issues that have delayed a court case to the disadvantage of a defendant.

Dismissal in a criminal case can only be initiated by the Government and by the Court when the defendant is found innocent of all charges.

The Court may dismiss an indictment or complaint when there’s a “failure to state an offense.” That is, a criminal case may be dismissed by the Court’s decision when there’s a delay in presenting a charge or charges to the grand jury, filing a complaint against a defendant, or when bringing a defendant to trial.

A dismissal usually means that a defendant will not be convicted; however, the charges will remain of the individual’s criminal record.

How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?

In the country, certain criminal records may be expunged or sealed by a judge or Court. Sealing a record means removing arrests, convictions, or both from an individual’s criminal record by restricting public access to them. While an expungement involves permanently removing the records as if they never occurred.

Federal courts expunge records very rarely because they are reserved for exceptional circumstances. To grant an expungement order, the judge must be convinced that it is in the “interest of justice” to do so. This only occurs when;

  • The records do not protect society in any way
  • The records will not assist any future criminal investigations
  • The records may be misused, and
  • Extreme law enforcement misconduct has been established.

Unlike states, the federal court system does not possess a comprehensive set of laws or statutes guiding expungement of criminal offenses. The federal expungement rules only cover the following;

An individual with no prior conviction who was found guilty of misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance per the Federal First offender act 21 U.S. Code §844. Penalties for simple possession. The expungement of all records relating to such a case is only available if the offender was less than 21 at the time the crime was committed.

Also, the Congress has mandated that the Secretary of Defense must expunge a DNA analysis of a conviction that has been overturned per Title 10 U.S. Code § 1565 - DNA identification information(under military law).

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