What Is a Federal Offense?

Kidnapping across state lines is considered a federal offense.
The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the power to establish criminal and civil laws.
Counterfeiting is a federal offense.
When a federal law is violated, the criminal case is tried at that level and convictions often involve prison time.
Federal offenses are violations of provisions of laws passed by Congress.
Committing federal offenses may result in the person being arrested.
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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 02 March 2015
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A federal offense is generally any type of conduct defined as criminal by a national government. When a national government establishes a law and imposes a penalty for a violation of such law anywhere in the country, it is referred to as a federal offense or a federal crime. A federal offense can be a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the severity of the crime and the severity of punishment that the national government imposes.

In the U.S,, for example, the federal government is empowered through the U.S. Constitution to establish both civil and criminal laws. For criminal matters, the federal government decides what type of conduct or actions will constitute a federal offense or a federal crime within its borders. For example, the Mann Act is a federal law that makes it a federal crime to transport a female from one state to another or to a foreign nation for purposes of prostitution or any immoral purpose.


Most crimes in the U.S. fall under the jurisdiction of the state where the offense occurs. In other words, must criminal acts are considered under the jurisdiction of the individual state. The federal government, however, has the power to determine what types of crime constitute a federal offense. There must be a specific provision in the Constitution or enabling legislation enacted by Congress that empowers the federal government to regulate a particular area; in general, however, the federal government cannot simply take away a state’s power to regulate activity that occurs within its boundaries.

There are a variety of crimes that are considered federal offenses. They include kidnapping across state lines, interstate drug trafficking, bank robbery, counterfeiting, acts of terrorism, postal fraud, immigration violations, and insider trading. Certain wrongful acts, such as tax evasion, may be prosecuted in both the criminal and civil system. Less serious crimes are considered misdemeanors; felonies are more serious crimes that can result in long prison sentences and large monetary fines. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the primary national law enforcement agency in the U.S.

The majority of federal crimes in the U.S. are defined under Title 18 of the U.S. Code. Federal tax crimes, however, are contained in other sections of federal law. Further, the Congress has the authority to delegate power to administrative agencies to establish regulations. These regulations may establish criminal offenses and impose penalties. Thus, a violation of a federal regulation enacted by the U.S. Treasury, the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the Federal Trade Commission among various other agencies may also constitute a federal offense.



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Post 2

Federal crimes are a pretty huge deal, and most people don’t seem to really understand the difference between breaking federal laws and state laws.

Both are serious, naturally, but messing with the big boys just isn’t smart.

For instance, my husband is a correctional officer and according to federal law there are certain things that correctional officers cannot do. Some of them seem harmless, like taking a gift from an inmate.

However, if an officer is caught engaging in something like that, not only do they lose their job they also carry a federal offense with them when they leave.

They are trained in federal criminal laws, though, before they begin working with inmates.

Post 1

Wow – so if I understand this correctly, the FBI is like the United States of America’s police headquarters. That is pretty awesome.

I’m always watching all of these FBI and CIA shows, but never really understood that about them.

Does that mean that if a person is considered a federal criminal that the FBI is coming for them?

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