Federal vs. State Policy Comparison

Laws and policies are written in different aspects of the criminal justice system. Some of these policies are written within the federal government and some are written on a smaller scale in the state government. The two seem rather simple to understand on the surface. The federal government handles the entire United States whereas the state government handles just what it says and that is within that specific state, such as New Jersey (N. J. ). The following paper will contain information which will compare and contrast the policies written from both types of governments and how they relate to the criminal justice system.

There will be information on how these policies have been developed and how they are implemented. Some explanation will be given as to how offenders are prosecuted and how their level of court is decided upon by the prosecution. The severity of the crime is equal to the severity of the prosecution and then finally the sentencing. When the topic is criminal justice, there are four theories. Those theories are punishment, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. There is a belief that when sanctions for a crime are imposed, society will get justice and peace (Criminal Law – Guide to Criminal and Penal Law, 1995-2010).

Sentencing for a crime is the most prominent part of a trial, and when a defendant pleads guilty to their crimes, they look to the sentence they will be given. The defense lawyer will give their client the best and worst case scenarios when it comes to the sentence and even what the presiding judge will be likely to do (Wright, 2006). Wright (2006) explains “Because of remarkable growth in the reach of the federal criminal code over many generations, a huge potential overlap now exists between federal and state criminal justice.

Especially for narcotics and firearms crimes, precisely the same conduct could lead to criminal charges in federal court, in state court, or both. ” (para. 7). There is an estimate that state felony sentences are becoming more severe and those statistics are taken from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). There is more difficulty in determining the federal system estimates. Federal sentencing guidelines were born in 1987 after the decision in Mistretta v. United States. Time sentenced and time imposed were brought closer together.

There was an increase of the amount of offenders sentenced to prison and the average time they served (Wright, 2006). There is a severity gap between federal and state prison sentencing. Prosecutors are able to pursue charges in whichever system they choose and this is because of the overlapping gap between the two prison systems. The choice between the two really does matter a great deal due to the gap (Wright, 2006). The gap is more visible when charges are similar to each other, such as crimes involving methamphetamine.

For instance, a defendant who was charged with trafficking 50 grams of meth will be sentenced to anywhere from 70 months to 84 months in a North Carolina state prison, but in a federal prison could face anywhere from 120 months to life. The differences there are huge. A prosecutor looking to put the defendant away for a long time will likely look at getting the offender sent to the federal prison (Wright, 2006). The gap that is seen between the two prisons systems is not always that big of a gap.

Federal manslaughter under the United States Sentencing Guidelines “were lower than the authorized sentences for manslaughter in many states for many years (treating the federal guidelines maximum as the highest “authorized” sentence)” (Wright, 2006). The federal prison system has grown much more quickly than the state prisons. In a span of 20 years, offenders that served time in a federal prison grew 286 percent as opposed to state offenders which grew only by 131 percent. Between 1987 and 2005 the growth of length in the federal prison terms grew by more than 100 percent (Wright, 2006).

Certain crimes caused the federal prison system to grow more rapidly than the state counterparts. Those crimes include firearms charges as well as drug charges. Drug charges that result in federal prisons usually involve larger amounts of drugs held by more serious offenders with longer criminal histories (Wright, 2006). There is more work involved in getting someone tried in a federal court and therefore, the agents spend a large amount of time trying to find the best way with the most benefits to develop the trial.

The less severe cases are then left up to the state prosecutors to try. A federal prosecutor will consult informally with state prosecutors in the area who handle similar cases (Wright, 2006). The number of offenders who were sent to a federal prison went from 60 percent in 1989 to 86 percent in 2002, which is an increase of about one-third. This increase does not compare to the state courts which did not really move during the 1990’s when considering felony offenders. There were 70 percent of felony offenders in 1992 compared to 69 percent in 2002. Not a big difference (Wright, 2006).

Wright (2006) also explains that “In the federal system, the length of prison terms served almost tripled between 1987 and 1992, then pulled back a little between 1992 and 2002, leaving us with an overall federal increase of roughly 100 percent” (para. 6). Conclusion There is a big difference in the way state and federal issues are handled in the criminal justice system and at the same time, there are some similarities as well. Offenders can spend just as much time in a state prison as in a federal prison or they may end up serving more time in either one.

Those decisions depend on many things like the judge presiding over the trial, the crime that the offender committed and the laws surrounding the crime that was committed. In the end, both types of prisons are needed. Some will house more serious offenders while the others will house less serious offenders but those who deserve prison time none the less. Both prison systems were created for different reasons and both are very important to the criminal justice system as a whole.

The best way to avoid finding out what the differences are first hand is to avoid committing any crimes that would land a person there to begin with. References HG. org Worldwide Legal Directories. (1995-2010). Criminal Law – Guide to Criminal and Penal Law. Retrieved from http://www. hg. org/crime. html Wright, R. F. (2006). Federal or state: sorting as a sentencing choice. Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www. abanet. org/crimjust/cjmag/21-2/federalorstate. pdf.