NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 21st September 2023, 11:03 pm
Understanding the Role of a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
Being charged with a federal crime can be an incredibly stressful and frightening experience. The federal criminal justice system is complex, and the potential consequences for a conviction are severe. Having an experienced federal criminal defense attorney on your side can make all the difference.
In this article, we’ll break down the key things you need to know about working with a federal criminal defense lawyer. We’ll cover what exactly a federal criminal defense attorney does, when you need to hire one, how they differ from state criminal defense attorneys, and what to look for when choosing the right lawyer for your case.
What Does a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Do?
A federal criminal defense attorney represents clients who have been accused of committing federal crimes. Their job is to provide the best possible defense for their clients at every stage of the case.
Some of the key responsibilities of a federal criminal defense lawyer include:
- Analyzing the charges and identifying possible defenses
- Negotiating with federal prosecutors
- Filing motions to suppress evidence or dismiss charges
- Conducting investigations and interviewing witnesses
- Obtaining and reviewing evidence from prosecutors (discovery)
- Advising clients on possible plea bargains
- Representing clients in hearings and at trial
- Presenting arguments to obtain the most favorable sentence
An experienced federal criminal attorney will handle every aspect of the case, providing skilled and strategic advocacy to protect the client’s rights and interests.
When Do You Need a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you are being investigated for or charged with a federal crime, it is essential that you hire a federal criminal defense lawyer as early in the process as possible. An attorney can intervene even at the investigation stage to try to prevent charges from being filed.
Some examples of situations when you should hire a federal criminal defense attorney include:
- You are contacted by federal agents (FBI, DEA, ATF, etc.) who want to ask you questions
- Federal investigators show up at your home or business with a search warrant
- You receive a target letter saying you are under investigation
- You are arrested by federal agents and charged with a federal crime
The earlier you engage an attorney, the more effectively they can protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Do not wait until after you are charged and arrested to hire a lawyer.
How Do Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers Differ from State Criminal Defense Attorneys?
There are important differences between the federal criminal justice system and state criminal justice systems that make it essential to hire an attorney who specializes in federal cases:
- Federal crimes are defined and prosecuted under federal statutes, not state laws
- Federal cases are handled in federal district courts, not state courts
- Procedures and rules differ significantly between the federal and state systems
- Federal sentences tend to be more severe than state sentences
- Most state criminal defense attorneys are not qualified to represent clients in federal court
An experienced federal criminal lawyer will understand all the nuances of the federal system that could impact your case, giving you the best chance at a successful outcome.
What to Look for in a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
When researching attorneys to represent you in a federal criminal case, there are several key factors you should look for, including:
- Experience handling federal cases: Look for attorneys who focus exclusively on federal defense and have years of experience in this area of law.
- Knowledge of federal statutes and case law: An understanding of the complex federal criminal code and sentencing guidelines is crucial.
- Familiarity with federal courts and procedures: The attorney should know the federal district where your case is being handled and be familiar with the judges, prosecutors, and procedures.
- Negotiation skills: Since many federal cases end in plea agreements, you want an attorney who can effectively negotiate with federal prosecutors.
- Trial experience: If your case does go to trial, your lawyer should have extensive litigation experience in federal court.
- Sentencing expertise: Federal sentencing can be complex, so look for attorneys experienced in advocating for fair sentences.
Common Federal Crimes
There are many types of offenses that are charged as federal crimes. Some of the most common federal charges include:
- Drug crimes – Drug trafficking, distribution, manufacturing, and possession often fall under federal jurisdiction. Charges can include conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute, and continuing criminal enterprise.
- White collar and financial crimes – Federal authorities prosecute complex financial crimes like mail and wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering, making false statements, and other white collar crimes.
- Tax crimes – Federal tax charges may include tax evasion, filing a false return, obstructing the IRS, and other tax fraud.
- Public corruption – Federal prosecutors often bring charges for public corruption, such as bribery of public officials, theft from federal programs, and conspiracy.
- Computer and cybercrimes – Federal computer crimes include hacking, child pornography, obscenity, identity theft, and other technology-based offenses.
An experienced federal criminal defense attorney will have defended clients against a wide range of federal charges and understand the complexities involved in building an effective defense.
The Federal Criminal Process
If you are charged with a federal crime, understanding how the federal criminal justice process works can help you know what to expect. Here is a basic overview of the stages of a federal criminal case:
- Investigation – Federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, IRS, SEC, and ATF have jurisdiction to investigate potential federal crimes. Investigations can go on for months or even years before any charges are filed.
- Charges – If the investigating agency believes they have sufficient evidence, they will work with federal prosecutors to draft a charging document called a criminal complaint or information. Felony charges go before a grand jury for an indictment.
- Arrest and initial hearing – If you are arrested on federal charges, you will have an initial appearance before a judge within 48 hours. This is when bail conditions are set. Don’t say anything without your lawyer present.
- Discovery and pretrial motions – During pretrial proceedings, your attorney will file motions contesting the charges, evidence, etc. They will also review evidence from prosecutors.
- Plea negotiations – Many federal cases end in a plea bargain. An experienced attorney can negotiate with prosecutors to get favorable terms.
- Trial – If no plea is reached, your case will go to trial before a federal judge and/or jury. Your lawyer will defend you throughout the trial process.
- Sentencing – If you are convicted, your attorney will advocate for the most lenient sentence allowed under federal guidelines.
- Appeal – After sentencing, your lawyer can appeal your conviction or sentence if there are legal grounds to do so.
Sentencing for Federal Crimes
One reason hiring an experienced federal criminal defense attorney is so important is because the sentencing process for federal crimes is complex. Some key things to know about federal sentencing include:
- Most federal offenses have mandatory minimum sentences that limit judicial discretion.
- Federal judges must consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes to determine the sentencing range.
- The guidelines provide a formula based on factors like the crime charged, criminal history, loss amounts, etc.
- Departures from the guidelines are only allowed in limited circumstances.
- Prosecutors can recommend sentences below the minimum mandatory through “substantial assistance” motions.
- Understanding these rules is key for federal criminal defense lawyers to advocate effectively at sentencing.
Unlike most state systems, judges have very little flexibility in federal sentencing. The guidelines and mandatory minimums apply rigidly. Having an attorney who knows how to navigate federal sentencing is crucial.
Appealing a Federal Conviction or Sentence
If you are convicted of a federal offense, appealing your conviction or sentence may be possible in certain circumstances. Some potential grounds for a federal criminal appeal include:
- Violation of your Constitutional rights
- Prosecutorial misconduct