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Which Sex Crime Cases Will Federal Government Likely Prosecute?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jul 17, 2021

This is a big question on many people's minds because a lot of times, when the feds get them for a sex-related offense, it's not just the feds who are involved. 

Federal courts use criminal statutes under Title 18 of the United States Code, while state courts have their own rules. This means several differences can impact sex crime charges and defenses, along with the consequences of a conviction.

Which Sex Crime Cases Will Federal Government Likely Prosecute?

If you have a sex crime case in a federal court, your criminal defense attorney must be admitted to practice in federal court. They must know:

  • federal criminal procedures,
  • tendencies of federal law enforcement agencies, and
  • the United States Attorney's office,
  • the grand jury process, and
  • the federal sentencing guidelines.

Some sex crimes are prosecuted under both federal and state laws. The United States Supreme Court has ruled this doesn't constitute double jeopardy.

The U.S. Constitution allows federal courts more power than local state courts when the laws overlap with state law.

Put simply; federal prosecutors decide which sex crime cases they want to try.

Federal sex offenses are usually investigated by experienced agencies and task forces, such as the:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI),
  • National Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force,
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and
  • other federal law enforcement agencies within the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

Our sex crime defense lawyers are providing an overview below for more information.

Most Common Federal Sex Offenses

Federal courts are much more likely to take on sexual-related cases where a crime involved criminal activity that crossed state lines, using the internet to commit a crime, and sex crimes against children.

The most common sex-related crimes that are usually handled in a federal court include:

  • Child pornography including possession, distribution, producing, and selling. Under 18 U.S.C. § 2252, if anyone is found with material depicting a child under 18 in sexual activity, they could be charged with federal child porn.
  • Sexual exploitation of children under 18 U.S.C. § 2251 can be charged against anyone who attempts to induce, entice, or persuade a minor to engage in sexual conduct to make a video, picture, or images.
  • Selling or buying children under 18 U.S.C. § 2551A can be charged against anyone, including a parent or legal guardian, if they transfer custody or control of children to promote sexually explicit activity.
  • Aggravated sexual abuse or aggravated rape under 18 U.S.C. § 2241 can be charged when someone is forced or threatened into sexual activity or by other means by way of threats and different extortion tactics.
  • Kidnapping with intent to commit a sex crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1201 can be charged when someone is taken, confined, held, and moved by use of force or fear and against their will or falsely imprisoned.
  • Human trafficking for prostitution under 18 U.S.C. § 1581 can be charged against anyone who transports people across international borders to engage in sexual activity and often involves sex trafficking of minors.

Other types of criminal conduct that could be prosecuted at the federal level include:

  • online solicitation of minors crossing state lines,
  • transporting minors to other states to engage in sexual activity, and
  • computer sex crimes.

The investigation and handling of a sex crime case in federal court are more complex than a local state court because the feds will typically only take the more severe cases.

Further, federal sex investigations by the FBI often are long and complex, involving many resources compared to local state law enforcement.

Readers should also note that federal prosecutors frequently only pursue charges in a sex crime case when they believe they have a good chance of getting a conviction and a sentence to federal prison.

Sex Offender Registration

Most convictions for a federal crime will carry mandatory registration as a sex offender with the National Sex Offender Registry that contains publicly viewed details of each offender, such as name, address, photo, and the specific sex crime.

Because anyone can view the information contained in the sex crimes registry, convicted felons often have difficulty finding housing or employment.

They also face other conditions that make daily life more complex, such as the restrictions on how close they can live near a school or public park.

Factors That Determine When Feds Will Take a Case

Often, the state government is involved, and sometimes the feds stumble upon a sex crime case, and it's not one they would typically take.

So, someone's thinking about evaluating whether or not the case would be prosecuted at the federal level or the state level.

Factors That Determine When Feds Will Take a Sex Case

I can give you an idea, having done this almost 30 years, what type of sex crime cases I see the feds take.

Vulnerable victims 

First and foremost, ones that involve a vulnerable victim.  So, if you're talking child pornography, the feds take those cases all the time, but they're not just going to take someone who downloaded a single image or one video. 

They're usually looking at people doing it on a much higher level. Also, I don't typically see them going after many young defendants.

If somebody's 20 or 21 years old, only has a few images, then they're likely to let the state government deal with that. Of course, it's up to them whether or not they prosecute it if it meets their criteria. 

So, children are vulnerable victims and are probably the number one topic/subject matter they go after, as long as:

  • there's sophistication involved, and
  • there are enough images for them to get a long federal sentence.

Unique Sex Crime Cases from Another State or Country

Another vulnerable victim that I see them prosecute is unique cases. I once had a case where someone had brought in a slave from another country.

The woman was being raped and they were charging slavery, rape, and all sorts of different sex-related offenses. That's the type of case that the feds will take. Another unique, vulnerable victim case is when the victim is in another country and is a child.

So, when somebody has a child producing child pornography or traveling to another country to engage in some actual activity with a child. Then those are cases that the feds feel responsible for and will get involved with and undoubtedly dole out severe sentences.

They are also likely to get involved with cases involving different states or countries because they've got much more resources to investigate and prosecute these types of offenses. 

It's also one of those scenarios where, sometimes, just through a matter of luck or unluckiness, the feds happen to investigate a particular sex crime. They might end up dealing with it just because they're the ones who got all the information and dealt with it.

If, on the other hand, a state deals with a case that can go either way, then the state could undoubtedly prosecute it.  They certainly have specific units that deal with sex-related offenses.

Criminal Defense for Federal Sex Crime Cases

So, if you or a loved one is considering being prosecuted by the federal government, I've been doing this for almost three decades.

Suppose you were accused of a sex crime and arrested by a federal law enforcement agency or charged by a U.S. District Attorney. In that case, you must retain an experienced federal sex crime defense lawyer.

Criminal Defense for Federal Sex Crime Cases

I've handled many sex-related offenses at the state and federal levels. I suggest you come in, and we'll sit down and talk and get a game plan together discreetly in my office so that you can do everything possible to protect your rights, freedom, and reputation.

I can provide you with crucial information about the federal laws regarding your case and communicate with federal agents and prosecutors to develop an effective defense strategy for the best possible outcome.

I will guide you through the federal court process. I will always seek to get your charges reduced, dismissed, or minimize the penalties for a conviction under the federal sentencing guidelines.

Hedding Law Firm has two office locations in LA County, including 2049 Century Park E #2525, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call our law firm for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979 or fill out the contact form.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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Hedding Law Firm is committed to answering your questions about state or federal sex crime issues in California and throughout the United States.

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