According to reports, the police and Circuit Attorney for St. Louis are turning increasingly to federal charges in cases that involve alleged gun violence or possession by felons. The police chief also reported that he is purposely turning homicide cases into federal cases when possible.
The reason law enforcement and prosecutors want to go federal with some cases is that they believe the federal system is tougher on convicted felons and that it is easier to make charges stick under federal laws. One reason for this is that changes to Missouri state law reportedly make it more difficult to charge a felon who is caught in possession of a gun under the state law.
The St. Louis police chief stated that he pushes for federal cases in some homicide situations because he believes that juries and judges at the federal level are tougher. He also said defense attorneys are more likely to advise clients against a federal trial if it is perceived as a gamble, which means defendants are more likely to opt for a plea. The chief said his detectives are looking for ways to make homicide cases federal issues from the beginning of an investigation.
While the police chief would not provide hard numbers regarding how many cases he took to federal attorneys, he did state that the murder cases generally involved multiple deaths. The U.S. Attorney involved in helping local law enforcement with these cases says he was compelled to get involved because of recent changes in state gun laws and an increasing violent crime rate.
What does this mean for those accused of gun charges or violent crimes? First, it means you need to be aware of how you are being charged. Second, it increases the need for a strong defense, since federal charges can come with severe penalties.
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “St. Louis police taking more homicide, gun cases to feds,” Christine Byers, June 29, 2015