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What Are The Differences Between Federal And State Crimes?

Crimes are either classified as felonies or misdemeanors. In the United States, these offenses can be further categorized into federal or state crimes. One important distinction between the two is the type of agencies with the authority to handle these criminal acts. Federal crimes are offenses that violate the U.S federal laws or cross state lines. These crimes are under the purview of federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Secret Service, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Examples of federal crimes include:

  • Mail fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Lynching
  • Computer crimes
  • Electoral fraud
  • Bank robbery
  • Forgery
  • White-collar crimes
  • Racketeering
  • Aircraft hijacking
  • Bankruptcy
  • Money laundering
  • Animal cruelty
  • Credit card fraud
  • Federal hate crimes
  • Identity theft
  • Destruction or damage of federal property
  • Crimes that occur on federal property or involve federal officers/employees
  • Drug Trafficking

Whereas, state crimes are offenses that occur in a specific state and violate that state’s criminal laws. The law enforcement, criminal courts, and attorney general are among the state and local agencies with jurisdiction to handle and prosecute these crimes. These crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Bigamy
  • Prostitution
  • Arson
  • Homicide
  • Rape
  • Larceny
  • Fraud
  • Assault and battery
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual assault

Sometimes, a crime can, at the same time, violate state and federal laws, and accused parties may be charged and tried for the same offense by both jurisdictions.

How Does the Virginia Court System Differ From the Federal Court System?

Although the federal and state court systems share similarities in court procedures, there are still differences as to the types of offenses heard, courts, prosecutors, sentences, and judges who hear the cases. In the Virginia federal court system, the United States Senate appoints judges for life, and the United States attorney general appoints attorneys (Assistant U.S Attorneys) to prosecute crimes. Furthermore, crimes are investigated by federal officers, and parties convicted under federal laws incur harsher sentences. Federal cases are typically heard in the United States District and Bankruptcy Courts in Virginia.

In the Virginia state court system, crimes are investigated by state or local law enforcement agencies and tried in the local and state courts. These courts include the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, General District Courts, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts. Judges are not appointed for life and have to be reelected as follows:

  • Every 6 years for judges of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts
  • Every 8 years for judges of the Circuit Courts
  • Every 8 years for judges of the Court of Appeals
  • Every 12 years for judges of the Supreme Court

State prosecutors, also known as district, county, or city attorneys, are responsible for prosecuting criminal offenses.

How Many Federal Courts Are There In Virginia?

There are 2 federal district courts, 2 bankruptcy courts, and 1 court of appeals in Virginia:

  • United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia
  • United States District Court Western District of Virginia
  • United States Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of Virginia
  • United States Bankruptcy Court Western District of Virginia
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • The United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia has courthouses in 4 cities: Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News. Below are the locations of the courthouse:

Albert V. Bryan

United States Courthouse

401 Courthouse Square

Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (703) 299–2100

Walter E. Hoffman

United States Courthouse

600 Granby Street

Norfolk, VA 23510

Phone: (757) 247–0785

Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige, Jr.

Federal Courthouse

701 East Broad Street

Richmond, VA 23219

Phone: (804) 916–2200

United States Courthouse

2400 West Avenue

Newport News, VA 23607

Phone: (757) 247–0784

  • The United States District Court Western District of Virginia has courthouses in the towns of Abingdon and Big Stone Cap, and the cities of Charlottesville, Danville, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, and Roanoke. Below are the addresses of the court:

180 West Main Street

Room 104

Abingdon, VA 24210

Phone: (276) 628–5116

322 East Wood Avenue

Room 204

Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

Phone: (276) 523–3557

255 West Main Street

Room 304

Charlottesville, VA 22902

Phone: (434) 296–9284

700 Main Street

Suite 202

Danville, VA 24541

Phone: (434) 793–7147

116 North Main Street

Room 314

Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Phone: (540) 434–3181

1101 Court Street

Suite A66

Lynchburg, VA 24504

Phone: (434) 847–5722

210 Franklin Road SouthWest

Suite 540

Roanoke, VA 24011

Phone: (540) 857–5100

  • The United States Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of Virginia has courthouses in Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News:

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

200 South Washington Street

Alexandria, VA 22314–5405

Phone: (703) 258–1200

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

600 Granby Street

4th Floor

Norfolk, VA 23510

Phone: (757) 222–7500

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

701 East Broad Street, Suite 4000

Richmond, VA 23219

Phone: (804) 916–2400

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

2400 West Avenue

Newport News, VA 23607

Phone: (757) 222–7500

  • The United States Bankruptcy Court Western District of Virginia has 3 divisions in the cities of Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Harrisonburg. Below are the locations of the courthouses:

210 Church Avenue

Room 200

Roanoke, VA 24011

Phone: (540) 857–2391

1101 Court Street

Room 166

Lynchburg, VA 24504

Phone: (434) 845–0317

116 North Main Street

Room 223

Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Phone: (540) 434–8327

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is located in the State of Virginia. The court hears appeals from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and South Carolina federal district courts and also from federal administrative agencies.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Lewis F. Powell, Jr. United States Courthouse

1000 East Main Street

Richmond, Virginia 23219

Phone: (804) 916–2700

Are Federal Cases Public Records?

Yes, federal cases are public records, and anyone may request copies through electronic, online, mail, or in-person services provided by the federal courts. These records include dockets, transcripts, judgments, and other case-related documents. However, not all records are available to the public. Some records are made confidential because of their sensitive content. These records include juvenile records, presentence investigation reports, juror information, and unexecuted summons or warrants. Also included are personal identifiers such as social security numbers, home addresses, names of minors, and financial information.

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 that the person resides or was accused in.

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

Federal court records from the district, bankruptcy, and appeals courts may be accessed online via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) for a fee. Searchers may obtain records from a specific federal court or search for the case on the nationwide index if the court with jurisdiction is unknown. Records available from the Fourth Circuit on PACER include dockets of cases filed from January 1, 1987, to present; case-related documents filed from June 1, 2008, to present (minus appendices); and appendices that were filed from October 1, 2012, to present. Because using the platform may be complicated, the FAQ page may be viewed to find answers. Questions may also be addressed to the PACER service center by phone (800) 676–6856 or email from Monday to Friday. Available information from PACER include:

  • The names of all parties of the case
  • Case information
  • Court opinions via the Federal Digital System
  • Daily listings of cases
  • Claims registry
  • Final judgments
  • Status of cases
  • Filed documents related to cases

In events where the electronic records are not found on this platform, the courts of record may be contacted to request the records.

How To Find Federal Court Records In Virginia?

Interested parties may find federal court records in Virginia by querying the federal courthouses where the cases were filed for specific ordering instructions. Generally, requests for physical copies may be made in writing and sent to the appropriate court. It is necessary to include the subject of record’s name, case number, the precise description of the sought-after record, and complete records fee. These records are also accessible using public access terminals located in the lobby of the Clerk’s office in the courthouses. Older records (1999 and prior) may be ordered from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Concerning earlier records, it is recommended to request from the court of record first before NARA.

Records from the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in Virginia may be accessed by sending or submitting a written request to the appropriate division of the court, including the necessary information indicated above. Mailing addresses are available on the Western District Bankruptcy Court locations and Eastern District Bankruptcy Court locations pages. The courts charge a $31 fee per search and $0.50 per page. Acceptable payment forms include money order, cash, or cashier’s checks. Records accessed through the public access computers are $0.10 per page. There is an additional $11 for certification. Copies may be ordered via phone using the Voice Case Information System (1–866–222–8029). It is possible to obtain a federal bankruptcy record by providing the subject of the record’s name, case number, or social security number.

It costs the same amount to obtain paper copies from the federal Western and Eastern District Courts in Virginia.

Copies of records from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit may be requested by phone (804) 916–2700, email/mail, or in-person at the Powell courthouse:

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Lewis F. Powell, Jr. United States Courthouse

1000 East Main Street

Richmond, Virginia 23219

Phone: (804) 916–2700

Requesters may complete the Copy Request Form and send this form through any preferable order channel. For phone requests, the requesting party must provide the case number, docket entry number/title of the record, and the date of filing. Authorized parties providing services under the Criminal Justice Act are not subject to copy fees and may send their completed form by email. For everyone else, the copy fees are the same as with the other federal courts. Acceptable payments include cash or check payable to the Clerk, U.S Court of Appeals. It is possible to order via the CM/ECF and pay via credit card. New users are required to register for a Fourth Circuit CM/ECF account to use the platform.

Can Federal Crimes Be Dismissed In Virginia?

A defendant who is acquitted of a criminal charge may have this charge dismissed under Rule 48 (a)(b) of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure. According to this law, both the federal government and courts have the authority to dismiss federal crimes in the State of Virginia. However, the government may only do so with the permission of the court or at the defendant’s consent. Also, the court may exercise its authority to dismiss a charge if unnecessary delays occur in bringing the defendant to trial, providing evidence against the defendant, or presenting charges to a grand jury.

How Do I Clear My Federal Criminal Record?

There is little relief awarded to a party who has been convicted of a federal offense. While the courts may seal or redact information on specific records in the interests of privacy or safety, this action only restricts the record from the public. It does not clear or remove the conviction. An expungement clears and destroys these records but it quite rare under federal statutes, and may only be granted by pardon or a federal judge under a few conditions, such as:

  • If destroying the records is in the best interests of society or justice
  • Invalid convictions or clerical errors
  • Upon non-objection of the government
  • Convictions of drug possession (if the defendant was under age 21 at the time of conviction with no former convictions)
  • Convictions involving misconduct of the government

There is no specific application form or process to expunge federal records; as such, an individual seeking expungement may petition the court in writing. However, it should be noted that the party must be able to cite provisions under the law that permit this expunction or prove that a personal interest outweighs that of the public. Also, that the expungement will not hinder future justice acts.

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