When a potential client calls our firm and tells us that they are charged with a criminal offense, one the first things we generally ask them is whether they are charged in state or federal court. There have been several instances where we have represented two individuals at the same time who are charged with similar offenses but one has been charged in federal court and one has been charged in state court. Indeed, this has happened several times where we have simultaneously been representing two individuals charged with drug offenses but one is charged in state court and one is charged in federal court. It also happened very recently where we simultaneously represented a defendant charged with a child pornography offense in state court and also represented a defendant (actually he was the spouse of an FBI agent) charged with a child pornography offense in federal court.
The reason that this is such a concern is that, often, the results for the defendants charged in state court are dramatically different than the results for the defendants charged in federal court. Indeed, it is not unusual for a defendant charged with a drug offense or child pornography offense in state court in Dallas County to be placed on probation and a defendant charged with the same or similar offense in federal court to be sentenced to ten year or more in prison.
Why is this? In state court in Texas, regardless of the offense with which a defendant is charged with, he can be placed on some type of community supervision. For example a defendant can commit murder and be placed on community supervision in state court. On the other hand, federal court sentencing is done under a system of guidelines that score a defendants offense and criminal history using a grid system. This grid system can lead to very harsh sentences even for first time offenders. Moreover, most drug offenses in federal court require mandatory minimum sentences under the federal, drug statutes. I recall one time many years ago representing a client charged with counterfeiting in federal court who faced a two year sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines and his wife bringing me a newspaper article about a murder defendant in state court being placed on probation and me having to explain to her the unfair differences between state court sentencing and federal court sentencing.