Federal Criminal Laws and Penalties Explained [2024 Updated]

Barry M. Wax

It’s crucial that everyone understands the difference between federal criminal laws and penalties versus those of a state, regardless of where you are living. If you have found yourself entangled in a federal crime, a skilled criminal defense attorney from the Law Offices of Barry M. Wax can evaluate your case and protect your rights. Keep reading to learn what constitutes a federal crime and what may determine the penalties.

What Makes a Crime Become a Federal Offense in Florida?

Federal crimes arise when an offense extends beyond or victimizes people across state lines, violates federal law, or is committed on or against federal property or its employees. Homicide or drug trafficking cases can become federal crimes if the activity or operation occurred within or across more than one state. Federal violations include counterfeiting and other forms of fraud, acts of terrorism, and tax evasion.

If a state crime utilizes a federal criminal act or employs means falling under federal jurisdiction, it is likely to become a federal crime overall. For example, an embezzlement operation that takes place across multiple states is a federal crime. Embezzlement using wire fraud or committed by a federal employee would also be considered a federal offense since the internet/telecommunication and federal property are under federal domain.

How Are Penalties Determined for a Federal Crime?

Federal punishments vary depending on certain factors and considerations on the part of the presiding judge but generally require harsher penalties than state cases. Federal crime trials are conducted within federal, not state, courts. This also means that any time served is within federal prison instead of state prison.

The judge must consider, but is not mandated to adhere to, the federal sentencing guidelines in addition to other contributing factors. When determining the penalty for a federal crime case, a judge may consider:

  • The circumstances and nature of the crime.
  • The defendant’s characteristics.
  • How needed the sentence is in regards to the crime’s severity, if it promotes respect for the law, if it effectively deters further offenses, and if it protects the public from continued criminal misconduct by the defendant.
  • Which applicable sentence options are available for the crime within the sentencing guidelines concerning the length of prison time.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Length of Prison Time

Every federal conviction is assigned a zone (either A, B, C, or D) based on the most recent federal conviction’s offense level (between 1 and 43). The criminal history category (either I, II, III, IV, V, or VI) is then taken into consideration. This is based on the number of criminal points a defendant has earned from previous convictions. These two factors determine the range for minimum incarceration time for the defendant.

For example, a B1 sentence is for federal crimes with either a Level 9, 10, or 11 offense level (the B) by criminals with zero or one criminal point on their record (the 1). The exact offense level corresponds with a minimum time range of incarceration. A Level 9 B1 sentence is between four and ten months; a Level 11 B1 sentence is eight to 12 months.

Additionally, the criminal may still be within the same zone if they have more prior convictions, but the current offense they are charged with has a lower offense level. A violation with an offense level below nine and a criminal history category of II or above has potentially lighter sentences.

Additional Federal Punishments

Besides likely imprisonment, other penalties for a federal conviction may include heavy fines and additional orders relevant to the specific violation. The severity of the federal offense and the defendant’s criminal record, among other factors, determine punishments that are not incarceration.

For example, an individual who commits tax evasion may pay up to $100,00 in fines, or up to $500,000 if it was done through a corporation, as well as a federal prison sentence of up to five years.


Q: What Is the New Sentencing Guideline 4C1.1?

A: The new sentencing guideline 4C1.1 is one of the recent adjustments put in place by the United States Sentencing Commission. It concerns federal convictions of criminals with no prior criminal history, allowing them to avoid a prison sentence if found guilty. Besides not having a criminal record, their offense also cannot be violent or a sex crime in order to qualify.

Q: What Are the Four Main Types of Sentences?

A: The four types of sentences are Zones A, B, C, and D. A convict’s crime is placed within a zone based on the severity of their crime; every federal violation has a numerical offense level assigned to it, up to 43, with Level 1 crimes being the least severe. Each prior conviction adds points to one’s criminal record, depending on the sentencing severity. The total number of criminal points corresponds to a category between I-IV.

Q: What Is an A1 Sentence for a Federal Conviction?

A: An A1, and any zone A, the sentence comes with zero to six months in prison. It potentially qualifies for probation and no imprisonment. Zone B, C, and D sentences differ based on criminal history category and offense level. Convictions are classified by a numerical level between 1 and 43, depending on crime severity. Based on the criminal’s prior conviction history, their history is assigned a category between I-VI.

Q: What Is the Two-Point Reduction for Federal Inmates in 2024?

A: This two-point reduction decreases the crime of qualifying federal convicts, avoiding an incarceration sentencing. To qualify, they must not have caused outstanding economic hardship, had no prior criminal points, and had no current involvement within a criminal organization. Additionally, a low-level crime cannot involve sex crimes, hate crimes, targeting a vulnerable victim, acts of terrorism, dangerous weapons, or severe bodily harm.

A Federal Crime Attorney Can Answer Your Questions

Being accused of a federal crime is incredibly frightening. If you or someone you love are facing federal criminal charges, contact a criminal lawyer at the Law Offices of Barry M. Wax today. We are prepared to take on your case and defend your constitutional rights.

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