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Understanding the Difference in Federal Crimes and Oklahoma State Crimes

CourtThe United States Constitution grants states the right to self-govern in many cases. Each state has its own criminal code, and any violation of the statutes therein is a state offense subject to prosecution in the state courts.

The Oklahoma criminal court system is comprised of 77 district courts, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), and the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. Criminal cases for offenses that violate the Oklahoma Criminal Code begin in the district courts, which are named for the counties they serve: Oklahoma County District Court, Canadian County District Court, Cleveland County District Court, etc.

Although most criminal offenses are prosecuted at the state level, the United States District Attorney’s Office prosecutes form federal crimes, or those offenses which violate theUnited States Criminal Code. Federal cases are heard in the U.S. District Courts. There are 94 U.S. District courts in the nation, and Oklahoma is the only state to have three:


  • United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa) – serving Craig, Creek, Delaware, Mayes, Nowata, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Rogers, Tulsa, and Washington counties

  • United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City) – serving Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Cimarron, Cleveland, Comanche, Cotton, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Harper, Jackson, Jefferson, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, McClain, Major, Noble, Oklahoma, Payne, Pottawatomie, Roger Mills, Stephens, Texas, Tillman, Washita, Woods, and Woodward counties

  • United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee) – serving Adair, Atoka , Bryan , Carter, Cherokee, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer, LeFlore, Love, McCurtain, McIntosh, Marshall, Murray, Muskogee, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Pittsburg, Pontotoc, Pushmataha, Seminole, Sequoyah, and Wagoner counties


The actual difference between federal crimes and state crimes, however, is much more subtle than determining which criminal code the offense violates. Often, a crime will violate both state and federal regulations, and either government may have jurisdiction. White collar crimes and, drug crimes, for example, may be prosecuted in either state or federal courts. The United States District Attorney’s Office generally prosecutes those offenses which occur on federal property, cross state lines, or in which the United States government or an agency of the federal government is a victim. Robbery, for example, is typically a state crime, but bank robbery is a federal crime because banks are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), a federal agency. Embezzlement is also typically a state crime, but if the funds are embezzled from a federal agency or an organization that receives federal funds, the United States government has jurisdiction.

State crimes are investigated by local law enforcement, state agencies, and/or the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI). Federal crimes are investigated by agencies of the United States government, including the FBI, IRS, DEA, ATF, SEC, and others.

Defendants convicted of state crimes serve their sentences in state prisons, including the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center near McCloud in Pottawatomie County. Those convicted in U.S. District Courts become inmates in federal prison.

Sentencing for federal crimes is often more severe than those handed down in state courts, and these cases can be more challenging for the defense. Legal counsel and representation by an attorney experienced in federal courts is a must for a successful outcome. Submit the case review or call (405) 206-3335 to consult a federal criminal lawyer in Oklahoma.

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