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Door Number One–State Court or Door Number Two–Federal Court

Federal resources are limited. As much as we think the feds are omnipotent and have surplus manpower, they have limits. So, we see shifts in the types of crimes that land in federal court.

For instance, lately we’ve noticed a decline in certain federal narcotics cases. At one time, that’s all we ever saw. It’s a bit naive to think that there a less people trafficking in drugs. The fact is that there are probably more drug traffickers than ever. Why, then, are fewer people getting charged in federal court. The issue is not one of crime; it’s one of enforcement. Federal agents are busy working on terrorism or other crimes du jour.

What we have seen is more computer based crime. The feds are targeting folks who download and share illegal material on the internet. People get on peer-to-peer networks and share files. Sometimes they share and receive things unwittingly. They set their computer to search for certain things and share certain things. Then they just leave it running. All sorts of files will show up on the storage drives.

The most common illegal file is child pornography. And there’s a lot of it out there. The feds have mandates and special funding to target this type of crime. And often the local state authorities share a task force with the feds.

Hand-in-hand with child pornography is the “Dateline” scenario. We all have seen the shows where the 40 year old man gets caught meeting the 15 year old girl who turns out to be a TV show host.

Cops pose as a 15 year old girl in a chat room. They strike up a chat with a guy. They talk about sex. They even share pictures. And, sometimes, the guy goes to meet the “girl.” Instead he finds a burley cop holding a gun and handcuffs.

This is a state court crime and a federal court crime. This is where the two doors come in. Behind Door Number One is a state court prosecution. Behind Door Number Two is a federal court prosecution.

What’s the difference? For basic child pornography, it can be pretty close. In other words, the federal sentencing may end up about the same as the state court sentencing in Ohio. But the “meet and greet” crimes are off the charts different.

In federal court, it’s a crime called Enticeme nt (18 U.S.C. Section 2422). In state court it’s called Importuning (R.C. 2907.07). In federal court, it’s a mandatory 10 year sentence. In state court, people can end up on probation.

Imagine that. If the feds take the case, it’s 10 years in prison. If Ohio takes the case, it could be as simple as probation (although a prison sentence of up to 5 years is possible if the alleged “child” is 13 or younger; it’s only a max of 12 months if the “child” is 14 but less than 18).

And there’s more. We are calling it a “meet and greet.” But there doesn’t have to be a meet. It could be a chat about sex. So if someone is chatting about having sex with a person who says they are a minor and they don’t ever meet, there could be a 10 year sentence in federal court.

So who chooses Door 1 or Door 2? Certainly not the accused. In Columbus, Ohio, the choice is made by the task force officers after consulting with the prosecutors.

And we’ve had cases that start in state court but end up getting moved to the federal level. That’s an unpleasant conversation. At first the person thinks they could end up on probation. But 3 weeks later they are looking at 10 years in the federal joint.

This is why it’s imperative to get an attorney who knows both systems. These things, while mostly under the control of the authorities, may be finessed one way or another through various strategies.

Obviously it’s best to avoid the illegal computer stuff altogether. But let’s be realistic. It happens. And when it does folks need help. Just be mindful of Door 1 and Door 2.

And, let’s be even more realistic. The 13 year old girl one thinks is hot for them is probably a cop with a hairy chest and a beard.

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