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The Changing Boundaries Between Federal and Local Law Enforcement

NCJ Number
Date Published
31 pages
This chapter addresses the development of Federal criminal law over the last century from a small group of statutes designed to protect direct Federal interests to a vast body of law that has effectively eliminated the distinction between Federal crime and the conduct traditionally prosecuted by State and local authorities.
Although the overlap between these hitherto separate spheres now seems virtually complete, this chapter argues that any account based only on substantive law would be misleading, because it fails to consider potent political and institutional limitations on Federal powers. The relatively small size of the Federal enforcement apparatus apparently reflects Congress' belief that the precise boundaries of responsibility should be set, not through substantive Federal legislation, but rather through explicit or tacit negotiation among enforcement agencies. This negotiation process is in part shaped by the decentralized nature of Federal prosecutorial authority, which tends to put members of the local power structure into gatekeeper positions, but perhaps shaped even more by informational resources available only to State and local authorities. After examining these restraints, the chapter concludes by discussing the consequences of a system in which the boundaries between Federal prosecutions and State and local prosecutions are set by the enforcers themselves and not by Congress. Among the consequences are the development of a system of low-visibility negotiated boundaries that diminishes the accountability of the system actors and the development of a "creeping criminal federalization" that has overburdened Federal courts and thus impaired the quality of justice. 11 notes and 102 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000