24/7 call for a free consultation 212-300-5196




When you’re facing a federal issue, you need an attorney whose going to be available 24/7 to help you get the results and outcome you need. The value of working with the Spodek Law Group is that we treat each and every client like a member of our family.

Federal Criminal Defense FAQ: Answers to Common Pretrial Questions

Federal Criminal Defense FAQ: Answers to Common Pretrial Questions

Facing federal criminal charges can be an incredibly stressful and confusing time. You likely have a lot of questions about the process, your rights, and your options. This article aims to provide answers to some of the most common pretrial questions we get from federal criminal defense clients.

How Does Federal Court Differ from State Court?

The federal criminal justice system differs quite a bit from state courts. Some key differences include:

  • Federal crimes are set out in federal statutes, not state criminal codes. Common federal crimes include drug crimes, firearms offenses, fraud, public corruption, computer hacking, child pornography, and more.
  • Federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums often result in longer prison sentences compared to similar state cases.
  • Federal courts have their own rules of procedure and evidence that differ from state courts.
  • Federal prosecutors typically have more resources and better funding compared to state prosecutors.
  • Federal judges are appointed, not elected, so they have life tenure barring impeachment. This can make them less influenced by politics or public perception.

Due to these key differences, having an attorney experienced in federal criminal defense is extremely important. Don’t assume that a lawyer who handles state cases can easily transition to defending federal charges. The federal system is complex and has its own unique rules and procedures.

What Happens at an Initial Appearance?

After an arrest on federal charges, the first court hearing is an initial appearance. This hearing happens within 1-3 days after an arrest. The purpose is to:

  • Inform the defendant of the charges against them
  • Appoint counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer
  • Consider whether the defendant should be released on bail/bond, and if so, under what conditions
  • Set further court dates

Defendants do not typically enter a plea at initial appearances. This short hearing is mainly to inform the defendant of the accusations and determine pretrial release or detention decisions.

What Factors Determine Bail/Pretrial Release in Federal Cases?

Federal judges have a lot of discretion when deciding bail and conditions of pretrial release. However, key factors considered include:

  • Flight risk – How likely the defendant is to flee or not show up for future court dates. Defendants with minimal community/family ties may be deemed greater flight risks.
  • Danger to public – How much of a risk the defendant poses in terms of committing more crimes if released. Defendants with violent criminal histories may be deemed greater risks to public safety.
  • Weight of evidence – The apparent strength of the government’s case. Strong cases may warrant detention more so than weak cases with little evidence.

Other factors like the defendant’s financial resources, health conditions, compliance with prior court orders, and nature of the alleged crime can also influence the pretrial release decision.

Conditions like GPS monitoring, curfews, travel restrictions, drug testing or counseling may be imposed as well.

What are the Stages of a Federal Criminal Case?

In very broad strokes, the key stages of a federal criminal case include:

  1. Arrest – Defendant is arrested, usually pursuant to an arrest warrant issued after a grand jury indictment.
  2. Initial appearance – Defendant is informed of charges, counsel appointed if needed, and bail considerations made.
  3. Preliminary hearings – Probable cause hearings in felony cases to determine if charges should proceed. These are rare in federal court.
  4. Pretrial motions & discovery – Defense counsel files motions contesting evidence, statements, etc. Both sides exchange information and evidence in “discovery”.
  5. Plea negotiations – The defense and prosecution discuss potential plea bargain agreements to avoid trial. Over 90% of federal cases end in guilty pleas.
  6. Trial – If no plea is reached, case proceeds to jury trial. Prosecution presents case first, defense second. Verdict rendered.
  7. Sentencing – If found guilty, judge determines penalty based on federal sentencing guidelines and statutory provisions.

The early pretrial stages offer the best chance to build a strong defense. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can advise on proactive steps to take.

What Should I do if Approached by Federal Agents?

If federal agents like the FBI, DEA, ATF, or others approach you seeking to ask questions, politely decline. Never speak with federal agents without an attorney present. While you should avoid seeming uncooperative, you also have the absolute right to remain silent and speak to a lawyer first.

Federal agents are highly skilled at getting suspects to trip themselves up or disclose incriminating information. They may act friendly, but make no mistake – eliciting admissions from suspects is part of their job. Don’t let your guard down. The only thing you should tell federal agents is that you will not answer any questions without your lawyer present.

How Important Is it to Have an Experienced Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer?

As highlighted throughout this article, defending federal criminal charges is a highly complex area of law. The federal system has numerous intricacies that state practitioners simply don’t have expertise in.

Having a lawyer intimately familiar with federal statutes, sentencing guidelines, pretrial procedures, and the local federal prosecutors and judges can make an enormous difference in the outcome of your case. Don’t take chances with your freedom – retain specialized federal criminal defense counsel right away if facing federal charges.

In Conclusion

Facing possible prison time for federal criminal charges is undoubtedly scary. The more you understand the process and your rights, the better. This article aimed to provide answers to some of the most common pretrial questions, but every case has unique factors.

We encourage you to seek out an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer for personalized guidance. An attorney can advise you on building the strongest defense based on the specifics of your case. Don’t navigate the complex federal justice system alone. Schedule a free case evaluation to discuss your situation in complete confidence.

Schedule Your Consultation Now