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Sep 16, 2019

List of Federal Crimes in the U.S.

The criminal justice system can be confusing. There are local ordinances, state laws, and federal laws. When compiling a list of federal crimes in the U.S., it’s important to first look at crimes though a state lens. Most crimes committed in California, for example, are violations of California statutes. Burglary violates provisions of the state’s Penal Code. Selling alcohol to a minor is a violation of the state’s Business and Professions Code. Driving with a suspended or revoked license violates the state’s Vehicle Code. California can enact and enforce any law that adheres to the U.S. Constitution.

On the other hand, the U.S. Congress only has authority to pass criminal laws that impact national security, interstate commerce, or where the federal government has an interest. There are some crimes that occur in or impact multiple states; when this is the case, the federal government typically has jurisdiction. If a crime is committed on federal property – like a federal building, a national park, an Indian reservation, or in the District of Columbia – then it is under federal jurisdiction.

While there are too many federal crimes to enumerate, here is a partial list of federal crimes that can impact Californians.

Drug Crimes

California has many laws on the books related to drugs. U.S. law has more. There are provisions that make it unlawful to make, distribute, or possess with the intent to create or distribute certain quantities of heroin, coca leaves, cocaine, PCP, LCD, methamphetamine, and marijuana. There are laws that make simple possession a crime. There are other provisions that enhance the penalties for a conviction if someone was injured, if a weapon was involved, or if the defendant has prior convictions.

Even though recreational marijuana is now legal in California, possessing, growing, buying, and selling are still considered federal crimes. If you or someone you love is tangled up in the web of federal drug laws, you need an Oakland criminal lawyer who is skilled in mounting legal defenses in drug cases. Being ensnared in a federal drug enforcement action should not be taken lightly. An experienced Oakland criminal attorney can deliver the defense you deserve.



In a list of federal crimes in the U.S., there are a multitude of crimes concerning weapons. These include:

  • Firearms – Importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms without a license, or dealers selling to underage buyers or those who do not pass a background check are federal crimes
  • Biological weapons – It’s a federal crime to develop, transport, or possess a toxin or other biological agent to weaponize it, or to help a foreign government to do so. The sentence for a conviction ranges from ten years to life in prison.
  • Chemical weapons – As with biological weapons, it’s a federal crime to develop, produce, or acquire a chemical weapon. It is a crime even if the activity takes place by a U.S. national outside of the U.S. or on U.S. property outside of the U.S.
  • Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction – Providing support to nuclear weapons programs or weapons of mass destruction to a foreign terrorist power is a federal crime


Counterfeiting and Forgery

Counterfeiting is well-known among the list of federal crimes in the U.S. Virtually anything having to do with counterfeiting is considered a class B felony, with a conviction resulting in a prison sentence of 25 years or more and a maximum fine of $250,000. A counterfeiting charge can result from creating a printing plate, scanning an image of currency with the intent to defraud someone, or possessing a printing plate to forge or counterfeit. Counterfeiting coins, stamps, postage meter stamps, or money orders is also a federal crime. The same holds true for forging court seals, court signatures, and U.S. agency seals. Tampering with, altering, or removing a vehicle identification number (VIN) is considered a counterfeiting crime.

If you’re facing federal counterfeiting or forgery charges, time is of the essence. You need an Alameda County criminal attorney by your side. An experienced Alameda County criminal lawyer can fight the charges alleged by the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting your case by challenging the admissibility of evidence and providing alternative scenarios that will plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of jurors.

Embezzlement and Theft

While California has laws against embezzlement and theft, federal crimes come into play when federal public money, property, or records are involved. For example, if a program receives federal funds and that money is embezzled or stolen, that could be charged as a federal crime. Theft and embezzlement by bank examiners, officers, and employees are also federal crimes.


As with embezzlement and theft, California has laws that make kidnapping a crime. However, when the person is transported across state lines, on an oceangoing vessel, or in an airplane, then it becomes a federal crime. Relatedly, someone who receives or possesses a ransom can be charged with a federal crime. While not the same as kidnapping, hostage taking – whether inside or outside of the U.S. – can be charged a federal crime.

Mail Fraud

While the term “mail fraud” sounds fairly innocuous, the U.S. government often uses the prohibition against mail fraud to gain convictions in high-profile cases. Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff went to prison for stock and securities fraud, but he also pled guilty to mail fraud. Elected representatives – like former Illinois Governor George Ryan – and run-of-the-mill debt consolidators have been convicted of mail fraud. Mail fraud extends beyond the U.S. Postal Service, and also includes UPS, FedEx, and other carriers.

Child Pornography

California has its own laws regarding child pornography, but creating, distributing, receiving, or possessing child pornography can also be a federal crime. Transmission can be through the mail, electronically, or physically moved across state lines. Provisions of these laws were used to grab a high-profile witness in the Russia probe. He was arrested on child pornography charges when he arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

If you or a loved one is staring down federal child pornography charges, your first call should be to a seasoned Oakland criminal attorney. Your Oakland criminal lawyer can mount a rigorous defense, or can work with prosecutors to negotiate a plea agreement to a lesser charge.


There are a number of immigration-related federal crimes, some of which have only recently been enforced. One example is asylum seekers who enter the U.S. between ports of entry and are then in violation of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This law paves the way for families to be separated and adult asylum seekers to be detained pending federal criminal proceedings. Federal law also prohibits creating, obtaining, or selling false citizenship or naturalization papers.

Getting caught up in the federal immigration system can be a nightmare. You need the immediate assistance of an Alameda County criminal lawyer who can assert your rights, keep your family together, and ensure that you are not deported.


People facing federal perjury charges have been popping up in the news over the past year or two. That’s because it’s a federal crime to lie under oath – whether the oath is administered by an FBI agent, a court clerk, a Congressional committee, or another U.S. official. Asking another person to lie under oath, called suborning perjury, is also a crime. The penalties for a conviction can be a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.


Typically associated with organized crime, racketeering can be charged in almost three dozen different types of schemes. For example, charges brought against those allegedly involved in the recent college admissions scandal included racketeering. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges can be levied in cases involving everything from murder and kidnapping to arson and bribery. They can even be used in cases involving pirated movies and software, securities fraud, and theft of trade secrets. They’re often used to levy charges in drug trafficking cases.

Animals and Plants

There are a number of federal crimes related to living creatures and plants. For example, someone who hunts, destroys a bird’s nest, or interferes with fish breeding in a wildlife sanctuary or refuge can be charged with a federal crime. Along the same lines, there’s a laundry list of mammals, birds, and fish – from fruit bats to mussels to brown tree snakes – that are illegal to import into the U.S. There are similar prohibitions for certain types of plants. Attending an animal fight is a federal crime, as is creating a video that depicts the intentional serious bodily injury or death of another living creature – so-called “animal crush videos.”

Crimes against U.S. Employees

California laws criminalize arson and homicide, but federal law kicks in if the crime is perpetrated against a federal employee or federal law enforcement officer. Likewise, if there is an attempt to intimidate or retaliate against a U.S. official, judge, or law enforcement officer by threatening or injuring their family member, that can be charged as a federal crime.


Other Serious Federal Crimes

The federal crimes discussed above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous other offenses that are tried as federal crimes – some of which are familiar and others of which are not – including:

  • Espionage – This can encompass gathering, photographing, or sharing defense information
  • Explosives – Importing, manufacturing, selling, or buying explosive materials without a license
  • Threats – Threats to elected officials, as well as extortion and kidnapping threats sent through the U.S. mail
  • Fraud – Fraudulent transactions originating in banks, credit unions, loan and credit applications, as well as identity theft and computer hacking
  • Mail – Destroying or stealing mail, or breaking into a mailbox – either the kind where you deposit letters or the kind to which your mail is delivered

Time is of the essence. If you suspect that federal agents are looking into your activities, or if you have been arrested by federal authorities, your first call should be to an Oakland criminal attorney. The right Oakland criminal lawyer can prevent you from incriminating yourself and can ensure that your life isn’t forever derailed by a long prison sentence and a hefty fine.

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