The Stavroff Law Firm represents individuals for both state and federal crimes in the state of Ohio. The federal government has seemingly unlimited resources to investigate and prosecute federal crimes. What's the difference between a state criminal offense and a federal criminal offense?


  • The vast majority of criminal offenses are prosecuted by state prosecutors, either at the county level or municipal level. State court has broad jurisdiction over offenses committed within the state. In contrast, federal court is a court of limited jurisdiction, limited to specific offenses.


  • State crimes are prosecuted by a municipal prosecutor or county prosecutor for violations of the Ohio Revised Code. In contrast, federal crimes are prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice, through the United States Attorney. Every federal judicial district has a United States Attorney's Office, which prosecutes persons accused of violating federal law. Federal prosecutors are known as Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA's).


  • State prosecutions originate from investigations by local law enforcement agencies, including

    • Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP)

    • County sheriffs

    • Local police departments

  • In contrast, federal prosecutions originate from investigations by federal law enforcement agencies, including:

    • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

    • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

    • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)

    • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

    • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

    • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)

    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

    • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)


  • Judges are the federal level are appointed by the President of the United States for life. In contrast, judges at the state level must win election by the public, unless the Governor appoints a judge to a vacant seat. Even if appointed, a judge must eventually run for election.


  • Generally, judges have broad discretion in matters concerning sentencing. At both the state and federal levels, mandatory minimum sentences limit judges' discretion and require judges to impose certain penalties on offenders, including lengthy terms of incarceration.

  • At the federal level, judges must go through a detailed analysis of factors before punishing a person for a federal crime. Federal judges must consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which provides sentencing recommendations based on the type of crime, the offenders past criminal record, and aggravating/mitigating factors. The steps a federal judge must consider before punishing an offender include:

    • The nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;

    • The need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;

    • The need for the sentence to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;

    • The need to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant;

    • The need to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;

    • The kinds of sentences available and recommendations under the United States Sentencing Guidelines;

    • The need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct;

    • The need to provide restitution to any victims.

  • At the state level, judges have much more discretion to impose punishment. Ohio state judges are still bound to follow the purposes and principles of sentencing, which are a list of guidelines judges must consider when sentencing an offender.


Contact The Stavroff Law Firm today to learn about your rights and begin building your defense.