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TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Governments: Federal Government: Property

States generally have jurisdiction over crimes that are committed within their borders. The federal government may exercise jurisdiction over crimes that are committed within a state when it has enacted statutes that make the crimes a federal offense or when it has territorial jurisdiction over the land on which the crimes have been committed.

The federal government has enacted statutes that make certain crimes a federal offense. The federal government generally only assumes jurisdiction over a criminal offense when the states are unable to act outside of their borders. In order for the federal government to assume jurisdiction over a criminal offense, there must be a connection with the federal government, such as interstate commerce, the use of the federal postal system, or the use of the mails. Such offenses include drug trafficking offenses, firearms offenses, bank robbery, and counterfeiting.

The federal government is also entitled to exercise its jurisdiction over crimes that are committed within a state when the land or building on which the crime is committed is owned by the federal government. Such jurisdiction is referred to as the federal government’s territorial jurisdiction.

The federal government obtains territorial jurisdiction to land that is located within a state in two ways. The first way is when the federal government reserved the land when the state became a state. The second way is when the federal government acquires the land by purchase, by gift, or by eminent domain. The federal government may only acquire the land for a purpose that is set forth in the United States Constitution, such as for the erection of a fort, a magazine, an arsenal, a dockyard, or any other “needful” building. A “needful” building means any structure that is necessary for the performance of the federal government’s functions. Examples of “needful” buildings include military and naval buildings, federal courthouses, customs houses, and post offices. Prior to 1940, the state must have consented to the acquisition and to the federal government’s exercise of jurisdiction. After 1940, the state must consent to the acquisition and the federal government must accept the acquisition. The federal government accepts an acquisition when the head of the federal agency that will be acquiring or holding the land files a formal acceptance of the acquisition.

In order to prosecute a defendant for a crime, the federal government must prove that a federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over the crime. In other words, the federal government must prove that the crime is a federal offense or that it was committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Proof of territorial jurisdiction may be shown by direct or circumstantial evidence. A trial judge may also take judicial notice of the United States’ territorial jurisdiction.

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