What is a Federal Conviction?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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In the United States (US), a person can be under several jurisdictions simultaneously. A person who is in Los Angeles, for example, may be subject to laws made by the federal government, laws made by the state of California, and laws made by the city of Los Angeles. If a person breaks any of these laws, he may be charged and convicted. A federal conviction, however, only results from the successful prosecution of a federal crime.

Generally, federal laws pertain to all jurisdictions. This means that a federal crime in Michigan will also be a federal crime in Texas and Nevada. Examples of federal offenses include kidnapping and hate crimes. When a person is accused of a federal offense, his case will be handled by the federal justice system.

A federal conviction results from a successful case that takes place in a federal court. Federal cases are not heard in state courts. State courts do not have the power, or jurisdiction, to convict a person for violating a federal law. Each state has at least one federal district court where trials for federal offenses are held.

The judges who issue judgments in these courts are federal employees. State and federal courts do not share judges. It may be possible, however, for a lawyer who tries cases in state court to also defend a person against a federal conviction.


The procedure in federal courts is similar to that in state courts. Before a person can receive a federal conviction, he must be made aware of the charges against him and he must be given an opportunity to defend himself in a trial. A federal conviction results when, at the end of a person’s trial, he is found guilty.

Federal convictions are not always absolute. A convicted person may be given the opportunity to take his case to the US Court of Appeals, where he can challenge the decision. A state court, including the supreme court, does not have the authority to hear an appeal of a federal conviction or to overturn it.

People with federal convictions face federal consequences. If these people are sentenced to prison, they will serve their time in federal prisons. They may, however, be detained in state facilities before or during their trials. If these people are ordered to pay fines and court costs, the money is paid to federal authorities.

A federal conviction is generally serious. It can result in many other consequences besides those ordered by the court. For example, a person may be barred from certain types of employment. He may also lose the ability to obtain certain types of social service assistance.


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