The Changing Boundaries between Federal and Local Law Enforcement

Daniel C. Richman, Columbia Law School


This piece addresses the development of federal criminal law over the last century, from a small group of statutes protecting 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, the article 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. After examining these restraints, the article 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.