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Federal Crimes: An In-depth Explanation With Examples

Priyanka Athavale Jun 30, 2019
A federal crime is that which violates a law passed by the federal government. This story explains the nature of federal crimes and enlists some examples.

Famously Criminal!

Did you know that Martha Stewart, the homemaker who made her way into millions of hearts and homes through her family-oriented TV program, was charged and sentenced for insider trading? She sold her shares in a drug company after obtaining inside information that their prices were soon going to crash. She spent 5 months in prison for it!
A federal crime is a contravention of a regulation passed by the US Congress. It differs from a State legislation, also more national level. A State crime is one where the law of a state is violated. The state government has the power to try the perpetrator. In federal crime, the federal government takes over the trial and sentencing of the criminal.
When a federal crime is committed, it is prosecuted by a federal agency. Some main federal investigative agencies as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Secret Service, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE or ATF).

List of Federal Crimes

There are many different types of crimes that constitute a federal offense. The number goes into hundreds. Listed here are some of the main types and their examples.

Credit Card Fraud

It means using a stolen credit card to steal items of high value. When a person maliciously uses someone else's credit card for making false 'purchases' of valuable items, it is tantamount to a credit card fraud, which is a federal offense.

Evasion of Tax

When a person does not pay any tax due from him/her, or provides false or inaccurate information on the returns form for the purpose of defrauding the authorities, then the crime becomes federal in nature.


Extortion means forcibly obtaining money or any other item belonging to someone else, using coercion, threats, or excessive force.

Insider Trading

Insider trading is the usage of confidential information strictly belonging to the company, to purchase the shares and securities for the purpose of making profits.


Forgery means unlawfully copying something to make it look original. For example, fraudulently signing for another person, creating a fake document, like a passport, driver's license, or a bank check.

Crimes against Children

These include broadcasting pornographic content involving children, anywhere on the web. It also involves any kind of assault or abuse on a child, and also kidnapping or abducting a child.

Insurance Fraud

It refers to fraudulently taking or receiving money from an insurance company by undertaking any course of action that is deceitful.

Gun Possession

These crimes include possessing a firearm without a valid license (where needed), possession of a firearm by someone who has faced a prior prison sentence, and even a firearm found in the custody of an illegal non-resident.


A crime of violence is defined as defined by US Code no. 16 of Title 18 - "an offense that has as an element for the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another".
OR, "any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense".


Counterfeiting means creating a fake replica of something valuable and passing it off as original. This is heard most commonly in currency notes. It also involves valuable paintings, designer wear, and antiques.
There are many more types of federal crimes, like drug dealing and trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, bank fraud, bribery, hacking, immigration violations, corruption, etc.

Capital Punishment

The Constitution states 41 federal crimes that are liable to capital punishment (death penalty). These are serious offenses which involve taking someone's life. Some of these are broadly listed here.

▶ Death resulting from destruction of an aircraft, motor vehicle, or a train, or hijacking of an aircraft

▶ Death resulting from the destruction of a train
▶ Murder in the process of a kidnapping or hostage situation

▶ Murder resulting from a drive-by shooting during a drug deal

▶ Murder of a Congress member, a Supreme Court judge, or a Federal judge

▶ Murder resulting from sexual exploitation of children

First degree murder
▶ Assassination or death resulting from kidnapping of the Vice President or President

▶ Murder by a hired assassin, or murder involving torture of the victim

▶ Murder of any person who is supposed to testify in court, for the purpose of prevention of testimony
Federal crimes are of many types, out of which 41 invoke capital punishment. The penalty for other crimes is variable and depends on the nature of the offense.
For example, a person caught dealing in drugs can face a jail term ranging from one year to life. It depends on the type of drugs he/she is dealing, whether there is an intent to distribute, if the drugs have caused someone's death, whether this is a first-time offense or not, etc.
For a gun law violation, an extra sentence is added for gun possession, to an already-awarded sentence by the court, taking into consideration the nature of the offense. The punishment varies similarly for other federal crimes as well.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations states that a crime cannot be tried after a particular amount of time has elapsed. It aims to avoid any untrue accusations or testimonies from arising many years after the deed has been done, because by this time, most of the evidence is lost or the people involved do not have a solid memory of the incident.
However, there is an option of preventing this statute from coming into force, which is usually awarded to those who have been victims of sexual abuse in their childhood.
Therapists have conducted an extensive research and come to the conclusion that as children, the victims tend to suppress this trauma because their mind is unable to deal with it. However, there is a chance that they may remember the ordeal years later, as adults, either by chance, or through therapy.
The statute of limitations can be 'stopped' in this case and the perpetrator is tried. This is called tolling of the statute.

Federal vs. State Lawyer

Federal crimes are serious offenses that violate laws on a national level. The cases need lawyers specialized in the same, so they can defend their client in a proper manner.  A State lawyer cannot fight a case in a federal court unless he/she is a Federal lawyer, or received a one-time special permission to represent his/her client for that particular case.
This was some brief information about what constitutes a federal crime, and the issues related to it. It is now quite clear that when a federal crime is committed, the consequences are quite severe. As Rush Limbaugh said, "If you commit a crime, you are guilty".