Most Common Types of Federal Crimes (With Examples) 2024

The term “federal crimes” could refer to any criminal activities that violate United States laws, but the term is more typically used to refer to crimes of this nature that actually end up in federal court with formal criminal charges filed. Learning a little more about the most common types of federal crimes can help individuals better understand and navigate the daunting and consequential legal system that is the federal criminal court.

First, it’s important to note that there are a variety of reasons a crime might be prosecuted at the federal level (rather than by the state). These potential reasons range from interstate crime rings to national security implications or sometimes simply the severity of the crime. As such, there are a wide range of different federal crimes on the books that individuals in the United States can be charged with.

According to federal justice statistics from 2022 (the most recent year for which complete data is currently available), almost 70% of all federal arrests fall into three main categories. These categories are:

  • Drug Offenses – Drug cases, especially those that involve trafficking between state lines, can be prosecuted at the federal level. Drug arrests accounted for 21% of all federal arrests in 2022.
    • Example: Janet has connections at several nursing homes in Arizona, which she uses to source prescription opiate pills illegally. She then drives these pills back to Nevada to re-sell them. If any of the people involved are caught, federal drug trafficking charges could be forthcoming.
  • Supervision Violations – Examples of so-called federal “supervision violations” include things like jumping bail in a federal case, failing to appear at your scheduled federal court date, or violating the terms of an existing federal court sentence. Supervision violations were the basis of 23% of total federal arrests in 2022.
    • Example: Timothy, a middle manager at an investment firm, has been charged with fraud by a federal authority and has been remanded to house arrest until his trial date. He attempts to flee the country before his scheduled court appearance, likely triggering even more severe federal charges.
  • Immigration Cases – The United States has an aggressive and well-funded infrastructure for immigration enforcement, so, to many people, it comes as no surprise that immigration issues account for nearly 1 out of every 4 federal arrests (24% in 2022).
    • Example: A group of people have an illegal business operation where they use modified vans to smuggle immigrants into Texas. This is a serious federal crime and potentially even meets the criteria for conspiracy depending on how many individuals are involved and the extent of the organized crime operation.

To zoom in on specific crimes, rather than just broad categories, we can look at a 2024 report by the Pew Research Center analyzing crime data from federal sources, including the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). According to this analysis, the most common crimes in the United States, by a wide margin, are non-violent property crimes:

  • Simple Theft (Larceny) 1,401.9 annual incidents per 100,000 people
    • Example: Judy goes into her sister’s purse while she’s in the other room and steals $50 cash.
  • Motor Vehicle Theft – 282.7 annual incidents per 100,000 people
    • Rick and Donny watch an online video about how to “hot wire” a particular model of car. They locate one parked on a nearby street, enter it illegally by jimmying a window, and take it for an unauthorized joyride.
  • Burglary – 269.8 annual incidents per 100,000 people
    • Helen learns that a family on her street is going to Costa Rica for a 2-week vacation and believes their house will be left unattended. After dark one night, she uses a lockpicking method to break into the home’s backdoor, then takes photographs of credit card information and other sensitive personal data.
  • Aggravated Assault (the first violent crime on the list and the only violent crime to make the top 4) – 268.2 annual incidents per 100,000 people
    • During an argument with his uncle, Frank brandishes a pistol in a threatening manner, then strikes his uncle in the head with the blunt grip section of the firearm, causing bleeding and bruising.

While the above numbers are provided by federal sources, it’s important to note that they are an attempt to aggregate the totality of crime data in the United States and not just federal-level cases. Because federal cases usually involve more serious crimes, we cannot extrapolate these crime rates directly.

For instance, it is unlikely that federal agents or courtrooms would be involved in very many–if any–of the petty larceny cases that top the list of most common crimes in the United States for 2024.

FAQs

Q: What Is the Most Common Federal Crime?

A: The most common federal crimes, according to federal data from 2022, are immigration violations. This can include things like illegally entering the United States or helping someone else do so. While these cases tend to be non-violent in nature, harsh punishments are possible in many scenarios, such as illegal re-entry after a previous deportation.

Q: What Makes a Case Go Federal?

A: There are many factors that can make a case “go federal,” although it is certainly not a formally defined term under the law.

As one example, organized crime cases that involve infractions in multiple different states are likely to be escalated to federal authorities. While there are various avenues for a case to “go federal” in this manner, the most common scenario involves a law enforcement agent within the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) referring a case to a federal prosecutor, leading to federal charges.

Q: How Serious Are Federal Charges?

A: Federal charges are typically a very serious legal matter that calls for a swift and effective federal defense strategy. That being said, federal cases, just like state-level criminal cases, will vary quite a bit in their gravity and consequences based on the unique circumstances and details of each individual case.

Q: Is a Federal Crime Worse Than a Felony?

A: A federal crime is not “worse” than a felony, and in fact, this question represents a misunderstanding of how crimes are classified. Federal crimes and state crimes are both sub-categorized based on their seriousness, with the two main classes being misdemeanors (less serious) and felonies (the most consequential crimes carrying the most severe penalties).

In certain scenarios, the potential sentence for a federal misdemeanor conviction could very well be lighter than the sentence for a felony prosecuted at the state level.

The Law Offices of Richard Kuniansky – Powerful and Cost-Effective Federal Criminal Defense

If you’ve been charged with a federal crime and aren’t sure what your options are, we can help. Attorney Richard Kuniansky and his team are dedicated to helping people facing serious federal charges, and we’d be happy to have a confidential chat about your case. Please reach out at your earliest convenience to set up a consultation.

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