08 Jul 20

Federal Criminal Cases: How Do They Work?

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Last Updated on: 2nd October 2023, 05:31 pm

Should you or a loved one be facing federal charges, it’s critical that you contact a skilled federal defense attorney as quickly as possible to fight back. A team of federal agents and U.S. prosecuting attorneys will be working diligently to prove your guilt and punish you for your alleged actions. The penalties for a federal conviction are harsh, and frequently include long prison sentences that could make it difficult to move on with your life afterward release. Bringing in a qualified law firm is the best bet if you want to avoid a conviction and possible jail time. 

Federal Criminal Case: Step by Step 

While every case is different, there are a number of steps that are common in most federal criminal cases. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the procedure.  

The process can include the following stages:

  1. The Investigation: One or more of the federal agencies, including the FBI, DEA, ATF, USSS, or DHS, are often involved in collecting evidence in federal criminal matters. At this stage of your case, the prosecutor can work with one or multiple agencies to gather direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. You need to hire an attorney at this point to fight back against investigating agents.
  2. Charging: Once the investigation is through, the prosecutor reviews the evidence gathered by federal agencies and makes a decision as to whether to present your case to a grand jury.
  3. Arraignment/Initial Hearing: Not long after an arrest and charge, an initial hearing before a judge will occur. You have an opportunity to  enter your plea at this stage.
  4. Discovery: At this point, the prosecutor and defense attorney take some time to review every detail of the case.  They exchange required records to get ready for trial.
  5. Plea Bargaining: In the event that the government has a strong case, the defendant could be offered a plea deal to avoid going to trial. In a plea bargain, the accused needs to agree to plead guilty or no contest in an open court before the judge to receive a deal.
  6. The Preliminary Hearing: If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, it now becomes the prosecutor’s burden to  demonstrate that there is enough evidence to make a trial necessary. The defendant has the right to choose to waive this step.
  7. Pre-Trial Motions: The prosecutor or the defense attorney could make pre-trial motions. Depending on the circumstances, motions might include a motion to dismiss, motion to suppress, or motion for change of venue. Pre-trial motions commonly affect the trial, courtroom, defendants, evidence, or testimony.
  8. The Trial: After all the preparation and motions, the time has come for the prosecutor to present the evidence in an attempt to demonstrate the defendant’s guilt to the jury. Trials customarily include opening statements, presentment of cases, witness examination, objections, and closing arguments.
  9. Post-Trial Motions: At the end of the trial, if the defendant is convicted of a crime, he or she may opt to file a post-trial motion for a new trial, a motion for judgment of acquittal, or a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence.
  10. Sentencing: Likely a few months after trial, the defendant will be required to appear for sentencing. Congress sets minimum and maximum penalties that guide the judge’s decision, along with case-specific details.
  11. Appeal: In situations where the defendant believes he or she was wrongfully convicted, he or she has the right to appeal the verdict.

If you’re looking at federal criminal charges, you may be feeling confused, overwhelmed, or even hopeless. Bringing a top-notch defense attorney in to represent you can help combat your anxiety and make it easier to deal with your case, because you know you are protected at every stage of your case

Confessions in Federal Court Cases: Your Right to Remain Silent

You Are Not Obligated to Speak Without Representation

Should you find yourself under investigation for a federal crime, the federal agents who are assigned to your case will probably attempt to obtain a confession from you. If you speak with these agents, they are likely to use the information you give them against you in court. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides you the right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination.  You should always take advantage of this right, along with your right to an attorney. 

Your rights notwithstanding, federal agents tend to make people feel as though they are obligated to speak with them, but this could not be further from the truth. Your federal criminal attorney will go to bat for you to uphold your legal rights.  In fact, if you already made the mistake of giving statements to a federal agent, an expert lawyer may be able to have your statement suppressed if it was incriminating and forced. 

If you are facing criminal charges, you should contact a defense attorney as quickly as possible to begin building a strong defense and to get more information about confessions in federal court.

Pleading the Fifth: Your Constitutional Right to Remain Silent as Detailed in The Fifth Amendment

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No federal agent can legally compel you to become a witness against yourself in a criminal case. They are well aware of this fact.  Under no circumstances should ever be put in a position where you have to choose between lying and condemning yourself. If a federal agent appears at your home and starts asking you questions about your case, you can lawfully choose to remain silent. In any such situation, you should always get in touch with an attorney before speaking with any federal agents.  

Defending Against Federal Charges: What is Self-Incrimination?

In the United States, the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights put limits on police procedure.  One of the constitutional rights in this amendment protects people from self-incrimination. What this means to you is that cops or other federal agents may legally ask you questions about facts that are unrelated to your involvement in a case, but they cannot require you to answer questions that equate to an admission of guilt, either inside or outside of court. 

It is worth noting that agents are legally allowed to pose questions that may have you pointing to the guilt of another person. Also, they can obligate you to answer their questions about your case if they provide you with an agreement in writing (usually in the form of a letter) that offers you “immunity.”  In other words, in exchange for their promise not to prosecute you, you are required to honestly answer any questions they may have.

Be advised that while penalties for lying to a federal agent are harsh, there is no penalty for choosing not to speak at all. 

You Have the Right to Remain Silent: Understanding Miranda and Your Rights While Under Investigation

In general, confessions are not considered to have been forced as long as officials have informed you of your right to remain silent. The Miranda Warning is spoken to suspects in custody before officers begin to question them.  The purpose is to make certain that any statements made by the accused are admissible in court. If, before asking any questions,  federal agents inform you of these rights, and then you make a statement that demonstrates your guilt, it can and most likely will be used against you in the case. 

When you are interacting with federal agents, it’s critical that you think before you say anything, and even more prudent to say little or nothing at all. On an occasion when agents show up at your home unexpectedly, you may get nervous and feel pressured to answer their questions.  This tends to be the case especially when they utilize their aggressive investigative tactics. Always bear in mind that you are not required to speak to them.  Moreover, if they don’t have a warrant, then they have no right to be on your property in the first place. 

Once again, opting to remain silent will not have a negative impact on the outcome of your case.

If you are looking at a federal criminal allegation, the likelihood is that you have many questions. For starters, you will want to know what charges have been brought against you, who exactly is investigating you, what strategies they will use to pursue a conviction, and what you can do to fight back.  You will also need to know what consequences you are facing and how your case will proceed. Our experienced federal defense attorneys understand federal crimes and the tactics that work in both felony and misdemeanor cases. We are well aware of what we need to do to get the win because we have experience working in tough criminal cases, and we have helped numerous clients achieve rather impressive results. 

If you need answers to your questions right now, we have compiled a few answers to some of the most frequently asked questions below.

What Crimes are Considered Federal Crimes?

Simply put,  if you commit a criminal offense that violates a federal law, then you have committed a federal crime, as opposed to a state law. In some cases, the crime can violate both state and federal laws.  If this should happen, then you could be facing concurrent investigations at both levels.  Federal crimes get investigated by federal agencies, like the FBI or DEA.  In addition, in order to protect you in a federal case, your defense attorney must be specifically licensed to practice in a federal court.

What Indicators Are There that I Am Under a Federal Investigation?

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As in a state investigation, you will probably be questioned or searched by authorities.  Depending on the circumstances, others around you might be questioned concerning your case. The principle difference is that a federal investigation is carried out by federal agents, instead of local police. Also, you might receive a target letter from a U.S. attorney letting you know that you are the subject of an investigation.

Regardless of the reason, if you believe that you might be under federal investigation for a criminal offense, then you should get in touch with an experienced defense attorney right away. 

What Penalties Are There for a Federal Crime?

The sentencing for federal crimes are akin to those for state charges.  They are governed by federal sentencing guidelines. Get in touch with an attorney to learn what penalties you could face for the particular offense you have been charged with.

What Defense Strategies Are There Against Federal Criminal Charges?

If you wish to protect your rights and stand up for your freedom, the most important step you need to take is to get in touch with a defense lawyer in the short term.  This is the first step in an effective defense strategy.  Beyond that, the defense strategy that can work in your case will depend largely on the specific details of your situation.  You should definitely consult an attorney before taking any action or giving any information or statements.

What Happens Before a Sentence is Imposed in Federal Court?

The process in federal court cases is conducted in keeping with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and is therefore often very similar between different cases.

 Stages of a Federal Criminal Case in Michigan

In the majority of cases, a thorough investigation will occur before charges are even brought against an individual. It is critical that you work with an attorney if you are under investigation, and that you seek out an attorney who has the requisite expertise to defend against federal agents.

In the event that the United States attorney decides to proceed with charges against you, an initial hearing and arraignment will take place in federal court, at which time your plea will be entered. At the end of this initial hearing, discovery will follow, where both sides exchange and reveal information pertaining to the case. You might opt to continue to work with your attorney to seek a favorable plea deal at this point, before the case proceeds to a preliminary trial hearing.  Beyond that point, you will begin preparing to  defend yourself in front of a judge and, possibly, a jury.

Before and after the trial, there are various motions you can pursue to challenge the prosecution’s case against you. You have the option to move to vacate a jury decision, set aside the verdict or even move for a new trial, dependent upon the specifics of your case. It is important for you to work with a lawyer who is aware of what legal options to pursue, and who is prepared to do whatever it takes to defend your freedom.

Sentencing in Federal Court Cases

The judge will look to a few different sources to make a determination of what sentence to impose. One of these is the guidelines Congress has set as to the minimum and maximum penalties for most crimes, and another is the U.S. Sentencing Commissions, who have also set out a set of sentencing guidelines that consider additional factors. The judge can also refer to a presentence report, defendant’s statements, victim statements, and information from lawyers.

Much consideration concerning the history of the offender, his or her disposition in the course of trial, the nature of the offense, and more, will go into the judge’s determination of what the sentence will be. Indeed, it is critical that you work with a lawyer who is knowledgeable in how to craft your story throughout trial and weave your defense into the information a judge can use. A good defense lawyer knows how to protect clients from conviction, and help clients achieve the most favorable sentences possible.