The Difference Between State and Federal Court

Federal court is an entirely different court system, with different laws, evidentiary rules, procedures, courthouses, and judges. When you face federal charges, you need someone who has experience with federal law and courts. Your lawyer has to be ready and able to represent someone in federal court. Michael Fayard is admitted to the U.S. District Court of Hawaii, as well as federal courts in Florida, Kentucky, and Colorado.

When You Can Face Federal Charges

To be brought up on charges in a federal court, it has to have jurisdiction, which can happen in several ways:

  • You violated federal law.
  • You crossed state or national borders during the commission of the alleged crime.
  • You allegedly committed a crime on federal property, like a military base.
  • The alleged crime was investigated by federal authorities, such as the FBI, DEA, or ICE.
  • Authorities discovered the alleged crime through a federal informant.

Some crimes can only be handled in state court because the offense is a violation of state law and doesn’t involve federal law, property, or authorities in any way. For example, possession of drugs is generally handled in Hawaii court, unless the drugs were sent through the mail or a bank wire was for the purchase.

Sometimes, state and federal courts both have jurisdiction over an offense. You could be charged in Hawaii court or federal court. Drug trafficking charges are a good example. When a trafficking case involves large quantities of drugs being moved between countries or states, it typically heads to federal court. Where the case goes depends on the prosecutors.

Other times, federal court solely has jurisdiction because the conduct violates a federal statute. Good examples are tampering with mail handled by the U.S. Post Office, tax evasion, or immigration violations.

The Importance of Having a Federal Defense Attorney

Hiring a federal criminal lawyer can be important even if your case starts in state court. It’s not uncommon for a case to start with local officials only to be transferred to the federal court system when federal authorities realize they have jurisdiction. Why is that? Federal law is known for harsh charges. When prosecutors want to look tough on crime, they’ll use federal law whenever possible.

It’s important to hire an attorney licensed to practice in federal court. Not all attorneys can represent you there. Your lawyer should be experienced with federal laws. They are different from Hawaii’s laws. How offenses are defined and punished vary considerably. When your case is in federal court, or there’s a chance it will go there, you need someone like Michael Fayard, who isn’t dealing with federal crimes and sentencing for the first time.

Federal courts work differently than Hawaii’s state courts. The rules and procedures are different. You shouldn’t work with a lawyer who’s navigating this system for the first time. Michael Fayard has years of experience in federal courts, and you can be confident he won’t make avoidable mistakes.


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Common Federal Offenses

Federal criminal defense attorney Michael Fayard can represent in all federal cases, including:

  • Drug Trafficking
  • Drug Manufacturing
  • Bribery
  • White Collar Crimes
  • Bank Robbery
  • Counterfeiting Money
  • Perjury in a Federal Proceeding
  • Harboring Undocumented Immigrants
  • Immigration Violations
  • Human Trafficking
  • Child Pornography
  • Illegal Weapons
  • Homicide
  • Terrorism

The Federal Court Process

There are several steps in the federal court process. You can and should have a federal crimes lawyer throughout them all.

  • Investigation: Local, state, or federal authorities will investigate a crime. Your case can end up in federal court no matter who starts the investigation.
  • Charges: You might be arrested right away, or you might not be arrested until after you’re charged. For felony federal charges, the prosecutor has to present your case to a grand jury. It’s a secret proceeding, and you don’t get to defend yourself here. If the jurors believe there’s enough evidence to support probable cause, they’ll hand down an indictment. The grand jury can also hand down an arrest warrant. (A federal prosecutor doesn’t have to use a grand jury if you’re being charged with a federal misdemeanor.)
  • Arraignment/Initial Hearing: After you’re charged, you’ll have your initial hearing in federal court. You’ll be told the specific charges against you, and the judge will inform you of some of your most important rights. You’ll be told whether you’ll be released before trial or held in prison. You should have hired a federal criminal attorney by now. At this point, attorney Fayard would fight for you to be released on bail. You also have to plead guilty or not guilty at your arraignment.
  • Discovery: The next stage of a federal criminal case is discovery. Both the prosecutor’s office and your federal criminal defense attorney will continue to investigate the alleged crime. They’ll each gather evidence and, during discovery, can exchange that evidence. Prosecutors have to give the defense attorney the materials they intend to use at trial. Each side thoroughly reviews all of the facts and prepares its trial strategy. During discovery, your lawyer might take numerous depositions, which involves interviewing witnesses. It’s important to know what a certain witness will say on the stand.
  • Plea Bargaining: Not every federal case involves plea bargaining. You might not be interested unless it’s clear the government has a strong case against you. Your attorney might acknowledge that it’ll be hard to win an acquittal at trial, in which case, a plea deal might mitigate the consequences of a conviction. Michael Fayard is experienced in negotiating plea agreements with prosecutors. But it’s important to know that plea bargains aren’t always the right path. What really happens is that you agree to plead guilty, and the prosecutor agrees not to ask for an enhanced sentence. They might recommend a specific lenient sentence. But in the end, it’s the judge who decides how you’re punished.
  • Preliminary Hearing: When you’ve pleaded not guilty, many cases hold a preliminary hearing. During this mini-trial, the prosecutor presents their evidence to the charge. Your criminal defense attorney gets the chance to defend you this time, unlike with the grand jury. If the judge decides there’s probable cause you committed the crime, the case moves forward. If the judge determines there isn’t probable cause, then they’ll dismiss your charges.
  • Pre-Trial Motions: It’s often important to ask the federal judge to make decisions before trial. Pre-trial motions ask for decisions on specific issues, like motions to change venue or motions to suppress evidence. Michael Fayard also might file a motion to dismiss if he believes he can show the prosecutor lacks sufficient evidence to win a conviction.
  • Trial: After motion practice and preliminary hearings and conferences, it might be time for a trial. If you’re going to have a jury trial, your lawyer will go through the jury selection process, which is called voir dire. This is a very important process because your attorney wants to make sure the jury can be fair. The trial begins with opening statements. Then, each side presents its case, starting with the prosecutor. When each side is finished, there will be closing statements. Finally, the judge delivers the jury’s instructions, and then the jury deliberates.
  • Sentencing: If the jury finds you guilty, then within a few months, you’ll go to a sentencing hearing. The judge decides your sentence based on federal sentencing guidelines.
He is relentless to ensure his clients are well taken care of.”

- Cliff T

Federal Penalties

Federal judges use the federal sentencing guidelines to determine an appropriate sentence—though the guidelines aren’t mandatory.

These guidelines can be confusing. It helps to consult a lawyer when you want an honest assessment of what you’re facing. You can count on Michael Fayard to tell you what you’re up against.

In the guidelines, most federal offenses are assigned to an offense level. There are 43 levels. The more serious the crime, the higher the offense level. When convicted, you’re assigned to a criminal history category based on your based convictions. There are six categories. Category I is for people with the least serious records, while Category VI is for those with the most serious criminal records. Then, the point at which your offense level and criminal history category meet on the sentencing table gives the judge a guide for an appropriate sentence.

This is a simplified explanation of the sentencing guidelines. But it should give you an idea of how complicated they can be. Numerous factors can impact the offense level and criminal history category you’re assigned, which then influences your likely punishment. It’s a good idea to talk with a federal defense attorney about the sentencing guidelines and when judges can and will depart from them.

Can I Be Charged in Federal Court After I’m Convicted in State Court

Yes, it’s possible to be charged with a federal court crime when you were previously convicted in state court for a crime arising out of the same conduct. In general, federal guidelines discourage prosecutors from doing this. It’s not an efficient use of the court’s time and resources.

If you’ve already been convicted and punished for criminal conduct, there are few reasons for the federal government to try and do the same. But it can and sometimes does happens. It’s more likely you’d face federal charges if you were acquitted of the charges in state court.

Call a Federal Criminal Lawyer for Help Today

If there’s any chance you’ll be charged with a federal crime, it’s time to call a criminal defense attorney who can represent you in federal court. A local criminal attorney who isn’t licensed in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii isn’t helpful. By hiring Michael Fayard, you have someone to represent you in state or federal court—or both. He can follow your case, wherever prosecutors take it.

To talk with him about your situation and how he can help, use the online contact form or call (808) 445-6708. We offer free initial consultations.