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When Can Murder Be Charged as a Federal Offense?

January 10, 2020

If the killing violates federal law, it will be charged as a federal crime.

When Can Murder Be Charged as a Federal Offense?

There is often confusion about whether a particular crime will be charged by the state or the federal government. Our system of laws is complex, and it can be difficult to understand which law applies to any given situation. In California, one obvious example is the use of marijuana. While marijuana is legal for both medicinal and recreational purposes under state law, it is still considered a controlled substance under federal law. This can create uncertainty about which law will apply.

When it comes to murder, it is typically charged by the state as a violation of California law. However, there are certain situations where the federal government may charge a person in California with murder. According to a murder defense lawyer in Santa Ana, CA, the decision rests on whether the killing violated state or federal law.

Whenever a person’s act of killing someone violates a federal law, it can be charged as a federal crime. This may happen in a number of ways, including:

  • When a person is killed during a bank robbery
  • A murder committed with the intention of influencing a court case
  • Any killing that occurs on federal property, such as national parks and Native American reservations
  • A murder of a federal judge or federal law enforcement official
  • The killing of an immediate family member of a federal law enforcement official
  • The murder of a federal official (elected or appointed)
  • A killing on board of a ship

For example, if a person kills the wife of a FBI agent, they will be charged with a federal crime. The reason this law exists is to prevent people from threatening federal law enforcement agents with harm to their families to get them to stop an investigation or take another action. Similarly, if an individual kills a witness in their court case, the federal government may charge the crime as a federal offense because it is a murder that has a goal of influencing a court case.

Importantly, any type of murder committed in California will violate state law. In some cases, the murder may also violate federal law. If federal law has been violated, then the murder case becomes federal rather than state. As a murder defense lawyer in Santa Ana, CA can explain, if a killing violates both state and federal law, the same conduct can be prosecuted in both federal and state court. This is not considered double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same act — because the state and federal government are separate sovereigns. In other words, because it is two different governments charging the crime, a person is not being tried twice by the same government.

The defenses to a federal murder charge are generally the same as for a state murder charge — although they may be adapted to fit the specific federal crime. For example, if a person kills a witness in a court case, a murder defense lawyer in Santa Ana, CA may argue that there was no intent to influence the court proceedings (i.e., there was another motive). In this situation, if the argument is successful, the federal government may drop the charge — but the state will likely still pursue a murder case. Defenses to this type of charge may include self-defense, lack of intent, or accident.

If you have been charged with murder at either the federal or state level, you will need a skilled murder defense lawyer in Santa Ana, CA to represent you. The Chambers Law Firm offers experienced representation for Californians accused of murder. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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