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What happens if you are charged with a federal crime?

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

What Happens If You Are Charged With a Federal Crime?

Being charged with a federal crime can be an incredibly stressful and scary experience. Unlike state crimes which are handled by local and state courts, federal crimes are prosecuted under federal statutes and rules. The penalties tend to be harsher and the procedures more complex.If you or a loved one finds yourself facing federal charges, it’s important to understand the process and know what to expect. This article provides an overview of the key steps and implications of federal criminal charges.

The Investigation

Most federal cases begin with an investigation led by a federal agency like the FBI, DEA, ATF, or IRS. They gather evidence through methods like surveillance, undercover operations, witness interviews, subpoenas, and search warrants.If the investigation produces enough evidence, the agency will refer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for potential prosecution. The U.S. Attorney ultimately decides whether to press charges or not.

Arrest and Initial Court Appearance

If charges are filed, federal agents will attempt to locate and arrest the suspect. Upon arrest, suspects are photographed, fingerprinted and advised of their constitutional rights.Within 48 hours suspects must be brought before a judge or magistrate for an initial appearance. At this hearing, bail conditions are set and a defense lawyer is appointed for those who can’t afford one. Defendants are also informed of the charges against them.

Grand Jury Indictment

Federal felony cases must be initiated by a grand jury. Prosecutors present evidence and testimony regarding the alleged crime. If 12 or more grand jurors find probable cause, they will return an indictment authorizing criminal charges.Defendants can choose to waive indictment if they wish to plead guilty. This avoids the time and publicity of convening a grand jury.

Arraignment Hearing

After an indictment, an arraignment hearing is held. The charges are formally presented and defendants enter an initial plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.Judges also address pretrial detention or release at this hearing. Defendants who pose a flight risk or danger to the public may be jailed until trial.

Pretrial Motions and Discovery

Extensive pretrial litigation often occurs in federal criminal cases. The defense and prosecution file various motions contesting evidence, requesting information, or raising procedural issues.During discovery both sides must share information and evidence related to the case. This allows them to fully assess strengths, weaknesses and options for plea bargains.

Plea Bargains and Guilty Pleas

Over 90% of federal cases end with a guilty plea rather than trial. Plea bargains allow quick resolution saving time and expense. Both sides avoid the uncertainty of a trial outcome.Common concessions include dropping or reducing charges in exchange for a guilty plea. Sentencing recommendations may also be part of the negotiation. Judges have discretion, but often accept the terms.

Criminal Trials

The remaining minority of cases go to trial before a judge or jury. The prosecution presents witnesses and evidence seeking to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense lawyers attempt to discredit the government’s case while presenting evidence and testimony that supports acquittal.Federal trials follow the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) and strict procedures. Experienced federal defense lawyers are essential to navigate these complex rules and protect defendant rights.If convicted at trial, defendants lose any opportunity for a plea deal and face harsher sentences. Juries determine guilt or innocence while judges impose sentences.

Federal Sentencing

Convicted defendants face strict federal sentencing guidelines. Factors like criminal history, loss amounts, victims, etc. determine the guideline range. Judges have some discretion to depart from the guidelines.In addition to prison time, federal sentences often include large fines, restitution, probation, and asset forfeiture. Supervised release may also be imposed which adds conditions after prison.Appealing a conviction or sentence is complex with strict deadlines. Only specific legal and procedural errors may provide grounds for an appeal.

Getting an Experienced Federal Defense Lawyer

Facing federal prosecution is daunting, but experienced defense counsel can help you understand the process, protect your rights, and achieve the most favorable outcome. Don’t go it alone. Consult with a lawyer as early as possible.The stakes are high in federal cases and seasoned federal practitioners have the skills and knowledge to defend these complex matters. They will carefully review evidence, identify defenses, negotiate with prosecutors, and challenge procedural mistakes.No two federal cases are alike so it’s critical to have an attorney assess the specifics of your situation. With so much on the line, get personalized counsel you can trust.


Overview of Federal Criminal Cases – U.S. CourtsStages of a Federal Criminal Case – Department of JusticeFederal Rules of Criminal Procedure – Cornell Law School

What are your options if facing federal charges?

Hiring the right lawyer

Having an experienced federal defense lawyer on your side can make all the difference in getting charges reduced or dismissed, avoiding mandatory minimum sentences, and protecting your rights at every stage. Don’t take chances with your freedom. Learn how to choose the right federal defense attorney.

Understanding plea bargains

Over 90% of federal cases end in a plea bargain. It’s important to understand what these are so you can make an informed decision. A plea deal may be your best option to avoid harsh mandatory sentences. See examples of typical federal plea bargains.

Getting sentences reduced

Federal judges have some discretion to go below sentencing guidelines under certain circumstances. An experienced lawyer guides you through this complex process to get sentences potentially reduced. Don’t leave sentence mitigation to chance.

Appealing convictions

If convicted at trial, appealing may be an option but grounds are limited in federal cases. Strict deadlines also apply. Learn more about the federal appeals process and discuss options with your lawyer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between state and federal charges?

State charges are brought for violating state criminal statutes. Federal charges allege violations of federal criminal laws. Federal crimes impact government operations, occur across state lines, or involve complex fraud or terrorism. Penalties are typically more severe in federal cases.

Do federal criminal investigations have to notify you?

No. Federal agencies like the FBI and DEA can secretly investigate for months or years before charges are filed. Methods like surveillance, undercover operations, and subpoenas may be used without your knowledge. Hiring a lawyer early allows you to get ahead of the investigation.

Can federal charges be reduced or dismissed?

Yes, federal prosecutors have broad discretion on charges and plea offers. An experienced federal practitioner negotiates aggressively for reduced or dismissed charges. Cooperation, assistance prosecuting others, and pleading to related civil violations may help. But outcomes vary widely depending on the specifics of each case.

What percentage of federal trials end in conviction?

The most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that federal prosecutors secured convictions in over 80% of cases that went trial. The risks of harsh mandatory minimums, sentencing enhancements, and forfeitures increase substantially if convicted at trial.

Do you have to pay for a court-appointed lawyer?

No. Those who cannot afford a lawyer will have counsel appointed at no cost. However, anyone with sufficient assets or income will likely need to reimburse the government for legal fees at the conclusion of the case. Retaining experienced private counsel is often the better option if possible.

Additional Resources:

I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of the federal criminal justice process and your options if facing charges. The most important thing is getting an experienced federal defense lawyer in your corner right away. Don’t go through this alone. Consult with counsel you can trust to fight for the most favorable outcome in your case. Every situation is unique so get advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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