An In-Depth Look at Federal Crime in North Carolina

Federal criminal defense attorney in Raleigh

While most criminal cases fall under state law and are prosecuted by the State of North Carolina, the Justice Department of the United States government can investigate and prosecute federal crimes. While most people think federal crimes are limited to white-collar charges like mail fraud and counterfeiting, the scope is actually much broader. Our Eastern District federal crime attorneys conveniently located in Raleigh are providing a more in-depth look at federal criminal law, what it is and some statistics that may surprise you.

How State and Federal Crimes Differ

North Carolina, along with every state, has it’s own comprehensive general statute that outlines, defines, and classifies criminal law. It includes everything from minor crimes like trespassing and vandalism to murder and burglary. While every state is different in how they define, classify, and punish crimes, federal criminal law is outlined in Title 18 of the U.S. code, is uniform across the country and has a national jurisdiction.

Federal crimes are investigated by the Department of Justice and tried by a U.S. prosecutor in the district court in which the crime took place. While there are some crimes that can only be prosecuted by the U.S. government – such as mail fraud, counterfeiting, and bank robbery, state crimes can also be turned over to federal investigators. Often, a person will be charged by the state, but the federal government will take over and the case will be tried in a federal courtroom. Most often, these are related to cases that cross state lines or affect interstate commerce, like drug trafficking, firearm trafficking, and fraud or crimes related to immigration.

Federal Crimes in North Carolina

In North Carolina, there are three federal district courts: Western, Middle, and Eastern. Our federal crime attorneys defend clients in the Eastern District of North Carolina (EDNC) which consists of 44 easternmost counties, including:

  • Wake
  • Granville
  • Harnett
  • Cumberland
  • Robeson
  • Johnston
  • Franklin
  • Vance
  • All counties east of the listed counties to the coast

Federal Crime Statistics

Federal courts have a much higher rate of conviction than state and local criminal courts and the penalties are often much more severe. Hiring an experienced federal crime attorney as early as possible to provide you with counsel and fight on your behalf is essential to improving the chances of a positive outcome for your case.

In 2018, there were 69,435 cases disposed of in the federal system. Of those cases, 67,610 (97 percent) defendants pleaded guilty to an offense. The conviction rate in the EDNC is similar, of the 744 cases disposed of, 724 (97 percent) defendants pleaded guilty to charges, either the original charges or through a plea bargain.

While most people equate federal court with white-collar and financial crimes, drug and firearm charges make up the majority. The breakdown of crimes includes:

  • Drug-related charges make up 29 percent
  • Firearms: 20.6 percent
  • Immigration: 15.2 percent
  • Fraud, theft, & embezzlement: 8.6 percent
  • Robbery: 5.1 percent.

Of these convictions:

  • 88 percent received a prison sentence
  • 6 percent were placed on probation
  • 2 percent received both time in prison and probation
  • 3 percent received a prison sentence and community punishment
  • 1 percent only received a fine.

The average prison sentence for someone convicted in the EDNC was 60 months. Looking closer, we found that average sentences included:

  • Child pornography: 152 months
  • Robbery: 119
  • Drug trafficking: 87 months
  • Firearm convictions: 85 months
  • Fraud (including mail fraud and wire fraud): 14 months
  • Immigration: 13 months

Demographics of Federal Crimes in North Carolina

Breaking down the demographics of federal crime convictions in the Eastern District, we can see that:


  • Men: 87 percent
  • Women: 13 percent


  • Hispanic: 53 percent
  • White: 23 percent
  • Black: 21 percent


  • 20-29: 29.2 percent
  • 30-38: 34.8 percent
  • 40-49: 21.1 percent

The High Conviction Rate in Federal Courts

The conviction rate of federal crimes is near 100 percent both nationally and in the Eastern District of North Carolina. This is significantly higher than the conviction rate in North Carolina state courts and the penalties from a federal conviction are often much harsher. This can be attributed to the sheer amount of resources the U.S. Justice Department has – unlike a local police department and prosecuting attorney, the federal government has near limitless resources to put toward an investigation and a trial. If a person is charged with a federal crime, it’s because the prosecutors are certain they can get a conviction.

That’s why it’s so important to work with a federal crime attorney as soon as possible. The sooner an experienced attorney can provide representation and begin setting up a defense strategy, the more likely the defendant will have an improved outcome.

Contact Our Eastern District Federal Crime Attorneys

If you need an Eastern District federal criminal defense attorney in North Carolina, reach out to the experienced team at Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh. Contact our team today at (919) 887-8040 to schedule your free initial consultation today.