What Is A Federal Crime?
The United States exists with a federal system. As such, there are frequently areas where the federal government steps in to try and to punish an individual accused, and then convicted, of a crime. Not just any crime can be taken over by the federal system, but the number is ever expanding.
A federal crime or federal offense, in the United States, is a crime that has been made illegal by the United States Congress via legislation or a crime that was committed on federally owned or operated property. Congress has the power to designate an action as a crime through its ability to legislate.
While originally crimes were created by the courts, called common law crimes, with the advent of legislatures and increasingly complex societies, the legislatures have taken it upon themselves to legislate more crimes. These crimes are referred to as statutory crimes.
If the federal government gets involved in the investigation of a crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, typically takes over this responsibility. The FBI has broad powers to investigate federal offenses.
Not just any crime in a category can be classified as a federal crime. For example, mail fraud that stays within one state and does not involve the United States Postal Service does not qualify as a federal crime. However, when the crime crosses state lines or involves the USPS, it can become a federal crime.
Another way to make an ordinary or state crime a federal crime is to involve items of interstate commerce. For example, the Mann Act, passed near the turn of the twentieth century, makes it a federal crime to transport women across state lines for the purposes of prostitution. By crossing state lines and making this form of commerce interstate as opposed as intrastate, a person has invoked the jurisdiction of Congress, who has been given the ability to regulate interstate commerce by the Constitution.
A series of murders that take place across state lines may also become a federal crime. This is to prevent the individual from facing multiple crimes in multiple states. This ensures some degree of judicial efficiency. Drug crimes can also become federal crimes if the FBI or some other agency gets involved.
Other crimes that may be federal include kidnapping, art theft, arson, tax evasion, and counterfeiting. A crime that has been added to the list of federal crimes more recently is the crime of assassinating or attempting to assassinate the president. While this seems like an obvious one, it was not added until President Kennedy was assassinated.