More In This Category
Federal and state criminal law are really different universes, and there’s good and bad to both universe, and I am in both worlds, which is pretty rare for a criminal defense lawyer, so there are definitely fewer federal prosecutions and private criminal defense cases you’re going to see in the federal world, and it is a smaller community. Generally speaking, people tend to stereotype that federal lawyers are of a higher pedigree and that it’s a higher level quality of lawyering, but that is not always the case. I can tell you that it is an entirely different system of laws, so not only are the laws different, but the way they’re applied is different. They have the federal sentencing guidelines. District court judges are different, and everything is much more formal in federal court. The rules are very precise. And so if you have a federal, criminal case, you need a federal lawyer. Everybody can spot a state lawyer stepping into federal court for the first time. You’re not gonna use the right words. You’re not gonna follow the right procedure, and most importantly, the laws are entirely different, so you’re not even gonna understand the possible penalties. And so it’s a real disservice to the client if you are a state criminal defense lawyer and you walk into federal court not knowing what you’re doing.
Now on the state end, I kind of call it the Wild, Wild West, because it’s more relaxed. It’s more informal, but you get some of the best trial lawyers that I’ve ever seen, who get, because of that flexibility, ‘cause it’s less formal, are able to tell the client’s story a little bit better on a murder trial, whereas in federal court, you’re required to stay behind the lectern. You’re not allowed to interact with the jury. You don’t get to question the jury. So there’s really advantages to both, and I honestly feel like I’m able to take the skill set from each and use the best of each skill set to my client’s advantage. But 100 percent, if you have a state criminal charge, you need a state lawyer, and if you have a federal one, you need a federal lawyer. Obviously, in the rare circumstance where you have a lawyer that does both, that’s great, but you need to make sure that lawyer has been in state or federal court and has done jury trials in state or federal court before you hire them.
Los Angeles, CA criminal defense attorney Karen L. Goldstein talks about the difference between federal and state criminal law.
Karen is the recipient of Trial Attorney of the Year 2020, The Jerry Giesler Memorial Award, by the Criminal Courts Bar Association (CCBA).