What Are the Differences Between Federal and State Crimes?
A crime is an act that constitutes an offense punishable by law. Federal laws governing criminal offenses in the U.S. are based on the U.S. C. Title 18. The state of Wisconsin also has rules that govern criminal offenses within the state. For the most part, these laws overlap in many ways. However, there are vital differences in the way federal crimes are prosecuted from state crimes. While federal crimes are tried using the federal criminal justice system, criminal offenses are tried using the state criminal justice system. At the federal level, the staff involved in how often deployed from federal agencies, such as:
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- The United States Secret Service
- Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives
- Homeland Security Investigation
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
The staff involved in state crimes investigation processes are state law enforcement agencies at the central and county levels, especially at the county or city where the crime was committed. Occasionally federal agencies partner with local law enforcement agents during the investigation process to gather evidence. The federal criminal justice system takes longer and is a more thorough process than the state criminal justice process. If the defendant is found guilty, the penalties and sentencing for federal courts usually differ from the state’s constitutional guidelines. Generally, federal penalties are stiffer than state penalties.
Similarly, convicts of federal crimes are incarcerated in federal prisons while state convicts are detained in state-owned, city, or county prisons depending on the nature of a sentence. The defining difference is the degree of involvement of the national authority or the diversity of states involved in the crime. Examples are:
- Aircraft hijacking
- Hate crimes
- Illegal wiretapping
- Computer crimes
- Tax evasion
- White Collar crimes
- Illegal use of weapons
- Identity theft violations of the espionage act
- Assassination or attempt attempted assassination
- Trafficking of any kind such as drug trafficking and child trafficking
- Electoral fraud
- Obscenities and child pornography
- Crimes against nature such as wildlife as is the case in poaching or bestiality
- The use of biological weapons
On the other hand, state crimes define crimes under its jurisdiction as either crime against individuals or property. Crimes against individuals include murders, rapes, aggravated assault, child abuse, battery. Crimes against property include burglaries, fraud, larceny-thefts, forgeries, violation of intellectual property rights, and arson.
How Does the Wisconsin Court System Differ from the Federal Court System?
The federal criminal justice process is quite similar to that of the Wisconsin criminal justice process. The main differences between the two lie in the prosecution and the way the judges are appointed. The federal criminal justice prosecuting attorney is the assistant U.S. Attorney, usually appointed by the Federation’s attorney general. For the U.S. district courts in Wisconsin, local district attorneys represent the prosecuting counsel In the state’s criminal process in Wisconsin. The judges of the Federal Courts are appointed by the president upon the approval of The Senate. Judges in Wisconsin State Courts are elected into position through a nonpartisan process. There are three basic levels of the federal court system:
- The Supreme Court: is the highest court of jurisdiction and handles appeals from Lower courts and the court of appeals. The Supreme Court of the Federation has original jurisdiction over cases between two States or between a state and the Federal Government.
- The Court of Appeals Divisions are mainly intermediaries between the federal trial courts and the Supreme Court. The court of appeals also has jurisdiction to cover the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.
- The federal District Courts represent the trial courts of the Federation with internal subdivisions such as the Alien Terrorist Removal Court, Article 1 and 4 tribunals and the Court of International Trade. Cases of bankruptcy are handled by the bankruptcy Court division within the District Court.
The state court system in Wisconsin follows a similar pattern, but it is stratified so as to reach the state’s rural areas. The state court system includes the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Circuit Court, and the Municipal Courts. The state criminal justice system works through an organized network of the courts within the state. There are ten judicial districts of circuit Court that serve the 72 counties in Wisconsin. While both trial systems can concurrently prosecute cases, the rule of double jeopardy disallows a defendant from being convicted twice for the same crime. A dissatisfied defendant can appeal a case from the State Supreme Court to the Federal Supreme Court if it passes a federal crime definition.
How Many Federal Courts Are There in Wisconsin?
There are two federal district courts in the state of Wisconsin. The Eastern District of Wisconsin which is further divided into two courthouse locations:
- Green Bay division: serves 16 counties, namely: Florence, Forest, Marinette, Langlade, Menominee, Oconto, Shawano, Door, Waupaca, Outagamie, Brown, Kewaunee, Waushara, Winnebago, Calumet, and Manitowoc. The address is as follows:
Jefferson Court Building
125 S Jefferson St - Room 102
Green Bay, WI 54301
- The Milwaukee division Serbs 12 counties: Marquette, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Dodge, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Walworth, Racine, and Kenosha. The division is located at:
United States Federal Building and Courthouse
517 E. Wisconsin Ave - Room 362
Milwaukee, WI 53202
The remaining 44 counties in the state are served by the Western District Court located at:
United States District Court
120 N. Henry StRoom. 320
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 264–5156
Fax: (608) 264–5925
Are Federal Cases Public Records?
According to the U.S. Constitution, the Freedom of Information Act 5 gives citizens the right to access federal records. Case information from federal courts comes under this category, and as such interested parties can access these records upon request and the payment of a token fee. This constitution’s provisions also grant federal courts the liberty to restrict access to certain information concerning a case. Generally, when the benefits of privacy outweigh the benefits of public knowledge, such information is withdrawn from open access. Circumstances that warrant the removal of court case information from public view include:
- Privileged information between agencies that foster the progress of a criminal case
- Criminal case investigation that is still ongoing
- Any information that can impair the right to a fair trial for any one of the involved parties
- Financial information and secrets, such as trade secrets
- Information for foreign intelligence
- Any other information that the Supreme Court Judge deems confidential by discretion
Records that are considered public 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 in which that person resides or was accused.
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
The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) allows members of the general public to access federal court case information remotely provided they have the following:
- An electronic device such as a computer
- An internet connection
- A user account
The PACER service center offers assistance between the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on business days. Call (800) 676–6856, or send an email. Persons with a user account can search for a case in the Federal District courts in Wisconsin, or explore a Nationwide index of Federal court cases. The PACER service is subscription-based and allows quarterly payments of service subscription fees. Searches can be conducted to obtain any of the information below:
- Specific Court
- National index
- Court opinion
Although limited information about a case record is provided, PACER also offers phone access to court records. Electronic access to court records is also available within the Courthouse premises by using the public service terminals to search for case information. Be sure to have at least one of these search identifiers to search for a case:
- Name of the involved party
- Case information I. D. or docket number
- The date the case was filed
- Location of the District Court where the case was filed and heard
The court does not certify all electronic information. Therefore, individuals cannot use electronic details for official purposes. Parties can find certified court records by visiting the Federal District Court Clerk’s office to make inquiries either in person or by writing.
How to Find Federal Court Records in Wisconsin
The federal District Court Clerk maintains copies of all criminal dockets filed with the District Court House. Criminal dockets filed before 2005 available either at the Federal Records Center or the National Archives and Records Administration in Chicago. An index listing of archive records is possible to search for the location of an archived document. Note that all requests for copies of archived records must be routed through the court where the case was filed. This is because both agencies only process requests that are referred by the courts.
Another way to check for archive records is to request to view all dockets’ party name index at the District Court clerk’s office. Criminal case judgments from 1955 to 2005 are also available at the Courthouse office. Parties can call the office at (414) 290–3372 for more information. The cost of searches or copies may vary depending on the kind of document format requested. Requests for visual inspection are generally free of charge mainly for index listings in microfiche format. However, the court office staff supervises the inspection process. See the court fee schedule for more pricing information. Visit the Clerk’s office to make a request in person or by mail to the courthouse of interest.
Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed?
It is tough to dismiss a federal criminal case. The degree of involvement of governmental personnel and the criminal justice process is complicated. Generally, a federal criminal justice process will not commence unless there is sufficient proof that it is worth prosecuting. There are, however, several instances where a federal crime can be dismissed.
When the defendant has been erroneously charged with crimes and eventually found not guilty, the federal court dismisses the case. A breach of process on the part of the prosecuting counsel also allows for the case to be dismissed. This is especially true of violating the defendant’s right, such as searching the defendant’s residence without an issued warrant or presenting sufficient evidence that was not connected under the criminal justice process. Federal criminal justice processes are complicated and time-intensive, often taking years to close. The ample time often gives a prosecuting counsel an advantage of building a reliable case against the defendant.
How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?
Federal criminal records are generally not amenable to sealing or expunction unless:
- The case was dismissed, and all charges were dropped against the defendant.
- It was a drug case by a juvenile that met the requirements of the Federal First Offender Act.
- The court grants the ex-offender a civil rights restoration or a pardon.
A federal criminal record may be cleared either by sealing the record from public access or complete obliteration of the legal system’s record. When a court record is sealed, access to it is limited to selected persons, namely:
- The persons listed in the record
- Their attorneys
- The court authorities and law enforcement agencies
- Anyone with a court order or an executive order to access the record
When a court record is expunged, the court will delete all information regarding the case from the legal system. The holder of the record can deny its existence. Persons who qualify for expunction should request for one by writing through the district court judge to the Attorney General of the Federation. If the individual was acquitted, the expunction is processed immediately. It is a case of pardon or government waiver. It takes about three years, during which the Attorney General ascertains that the individual has met all legal obligations to qualify for an expunction. In the meantime, the involved party can petition the court of jurisdiction to have the record sealed from public access.