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What Is a Federal Felony in California?

The enormity of the American legal system is such that anyone who tries to understand the subtleties among different felonies would find themselves daunted, especially while trying to separate federal from state felonies. For people in and around Los Angeles County, California, and across the country, this is more than an academic distinction; it can make for profound impacts on the legal process, potential sentencing, and ultimate outcomes. 

Whether you are the person being accused, the family member worrying, a defense attorney or a prosecutor, or perhaps just some curious adult, there is a need for the basics of what a federal felony involves in California. This article explains the complexity, leading you through the maze of legalese to a much clearer understanding of your rights and responsibilities under law.

Understanding Felonies in California 

A felony is a very high category of crime, with heavy fines, and, most seriously, imprisonment beyond one year as the penalties. Felonies committed in California, just like in the rest of the US, may fit into the embrace of state or federal jurisdiction, depending on where the crime was committed and a couple of other factors. 

State felonies are prosecuted under California law, in the state courts. They cover crimes, which include anything from issues of theft to assault, all the way up to crimes like murder. On the contrary, federal felonies are those which fall under federal law and are prosecuted by the United States government. This would include such crimes that cross state boundaries, crimes against federal employees, and crimes on federal property. 

The difference between these two types of felonies goes beyond merely the prosecutor and touches on the legal process, likely defenses for the defendant, and the level of punishment given.

Federal Felony Classes

Federal felonies in the United States are graded according to certain classes, with the federal felony list being from class A—the most severe—to the least severe ones in class D. This categorization is very instrumental in determining the sentences imposed on persons found guilty.

A class A federal felony crime is the most serious class of crime. Class A federal felony examples include but are not limited to murder, kidnapping, and high-level drug trafficking crimes. The consequences of the conviction may be life imprisonment or even capital punishment.

A Class B federal felony includes serious crimes such as armed robbery, certain kinds of assaults and some types of drug-related offenses. Its sentences range from 25 years to life.

A Class C federal felony includes crimes like fraud, involuntary manslaughter, and some drug-related offenses. They normally involve sentences ranging from 10-25 years of imprisonment.

A Class D federal felony. These are federal felonies in the least degree, including some thefts and low-level drug crimes, with sentences that typically go from 5 to 10 years. 

Federal Crime vs Felony vs. State Crime and Felony

The fundamental difference between these is simple: a federal crime violates U.S. federal law; on the other hand, a state felony violates state laws. If a person commits an offense that is both illegal at federal and state level, then factors like location, which we have discussed earlier, will come into play when determining how the case is to be prosecuted.

State Felony vs Federal Felony: Who Prosecutes What?

Federal crimes are usually prosecuted by the Department of Justice of the United States and involve institutions such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and United States Attorneys' Offices. On the other hand, state crimes are prosecuted by a local district attorney; these are usually referred to as a state's attorney or prosecuting attorney. Federal crimes generally entail complex legal issues that traverse the state line or such crimes that, under federal law, have been classified to require national oversight, such as bank robbery, immigration and customs violations, and tax evasion.

Crimes under review and prosecution of the federal agencies place a defendant in the circumstances whereby he or she must have a very coherent and solid legal team.

Statute of Limitations Federal Felonies

Understanding the statute of limitations is very important. This salient legal concept sets forth the maximum time period after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated.

In the realm of federal felonies, this timeframe can vary significantly based on the nature of the crime. In general though, five years is the statute of limitations for many federal felonies, within which the government may bring charges after the commission of a crime.

Exceptions to the statute of limitations rule exists though. These are tied to certain serious crimes; namely, capital offenses, terrorism-related offenses, and certain crimes against children, which are given an unlimited or extended statute of limitation to reflect the gravity and far-reaching effects on society.

This aspect of federal law emphasizes the need for strategic defense in cases where the statute of limitation may become the focal point of the argument.

Can a Federal Felony be Expunged?

Expunging a federal felony, the legal deletion of a conviction from public records, is a complex and at best often misunderstood element of criminal justice. Generally speaking, expunging of federal crimes is not possible, with only a few exceptions. The rare cases to be eligible for expunction are instances of wrongful conviction or identity theft.

Other forms of relief exist though. These may include the presidential pardon or commutation of the sentences for persons convicted of a federal felony. Such does not remove the conviction but rather can reduce some of the consequences associated with the conviction.

The subtleties in this are important for someone trying to clear a record, or at the very least minimize the impact of a federal felony conviction on their record. It really underscores the real need for good legal advice and advocacy.


What constitutes a federal felony?

A federal felony is an offense or crime punishable by law that has to do with a breach against the laws laid down at the United States federal level. It consists of crimes that relate to federal property, committing a crime over the state border, or those that constitute a violation of a federal statute.

Is a federal felony worse than a state felony? 

Normally, federal felonies are held to be much more serious because of the very serious federal sentencing guidelines and infinite resources that are found within the federal legal system.

What is a federal crime example?

Examples of federal crimes include bank robbery, evading the payment of taxes, and crimes related to interstate traffic in any form of illegal drugs.

What is the highest class felony?

The most serious category of federal felonies is Class A felony, which includes offenses such as terrorism, murder, and major drug trafficking. Convictions can result in life imprisonment or the death penalty. 

Is a felony a federal crime?

So, are felonies federal in California? No, not all are regarded as federal crimes. A felony may be classified to be of state or federal level, based on the crime nature, the laws broken, and where the crime was committed. Federal felonies violate U.S. federal laws.

Speak With Us

Feeling quite overwhelmed while trying to find the way through the labyrinths of a Felony in California, or federal felonies? You are not alone. Whether you have found yourself in trouble, or are helping out someone in such a situation, or you simply want to know something more about the legal environment, our team is always there at your disposal. We provide effective counsel, representation, and support with a dedication tailored to your unique situation and needs..

If you have any question regarding any specific charge, help in understanding the statute of limitations, or advice on possible defense or expungement, do not hesitate to contact us for professional advice. Make the first step in finding your way through the legal system with relative ease. We are here to fight for your rights and get the best results possible for you.

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