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Federal Criminal Defense FAQ: Answers to Common Trial Questions

Federal Criminal Defense FAQ: Answers to Common Trial Questions

So you’re facing federal criminal charges and have a lot of questions about what comes next. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Going to federal criminal trial can be really confusing and scary if you don’t know what to expect. As federal criminal defense attorneys, we get asked tons of questions by our clients about the federal trial process. In this article, we’ll go over some of the most frequently asked questions to help you understand what’s going to happen and feel more prepared.

What should I do first if I’m charged with a federal crime?

The very first thing you need to do if facing federal charges is hire a lawyer who specializes in federal criminal defense. Seriously, do not wait on this. Federal cases move fast and you need an experienced federal defense attorney on your side from day one. They’ll advise you on next steps, including what info to collect and how to interact (or not interact) with investigators.

It’s also really important to educate yourself on the specific charges you’re facing and potential penalties. Federal laws are complex with a ton of nuances, but having a basic understanding will help you participate in building your defense strategy.

How is a federal criminal trial different from a state one?

There are definitely major differences between the state and federal court systems that impact criminal trials. A few key things to know:

  • Federal charges tend to be more complex or serious crimes. Think fraud, cybercrime, drug trafficking, etc.
  • Federal trials usually move faster with stricter deadlines. The feds don’t mess around.
  • Federal sentencing guidelines are different and often harsher. There are mandatory minimums for many federal offenses.
  • The burden of proof is still “beyond a reasonable doubt” but federal prosecutors have way more investigative resources at their disposal.

So in a nutshell, the federal criminal justice system is extremely formidable. Having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is critical.

What should I do to prepare for trial?

Preparing well for a federal criminal trial is critical yet tricky. Here are some key things your attorney will likely advise:

  • Don’t talk to anyone about the case unless your lawyer is present. Seriously, zip those lips! Even casual comments to friends could come back to haunt you.
  • Collect relevant documents and records like emails, texts, financial statements, etc. Your lawyer will provide guidance on what’s needed.
  • Take notes on all case details and conversations to help prep your testimony. Stick to facts only.
  • Line up credible character witnesses who can speak to your reputation at sentencing if needed. Guidance from your lawyer is key here.
  • Work closely with your lawyer as they prep your defense strategy. Be ready to practice answering tough questions.

The bottom line is that meticulous preparation and trusting your experienced federal defense lawyer is key to trial success.

What happens at a federal sentencing hearing?

If found guilty at trial or via plea deal, the next big step is federal sentencing. The court uses federal sentencing guidelines to determine your sentence based on the charges convicted and your criminal history.

Here’s a quick overview of what goes down:

  • presentence investigation report is compiled by probation officers with background on you, your crime, recommended sentence, etc.
  • Your defense lawyer challenges aspects of the report and files a sentencing memorandum arguing for leniency.
  • At the sentencing hearing, your defense lawyer presents mitigating factors and character witness testimonies aiming to reduce your sentence.
  • The federal judge makes the final call on your sentence length and terms based on all the evidence presented.

It’s a complex process with a lot at stake, so having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer fighting on your behalf is so important.

What kinds of plea deals are common in federal cases?

Over 90% of federal criminal cases end in plea deals rather than going to trial. The immense power of federal prosecutors makes accepting a plea deal extremely tempting. Common deals include:

Charge reduction: Pleading guilty to a less serious charge in exchange for dropping more serious ones.

Sentencing recommendation: Prosecutors recommending a lighter sentence (not binding to the judge).

Cooperation deal: Providing testimony or evidence about co-conspirators in exchange for charge/sentence leniency.

The specifics of plea deals vary widely by case. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can best advise if a deal is favorable or heading to trial is better.

How long do federal criminal trials usually last?

There is no one-size-fits-all for federal trial length. Complex fraud or public corruption trials with tons of evidence and witnesses might last months. Simple cases with limited charges and facts may wrap up in just a few days.

On average most federal criminal trials last 1-2 weeks – significantly shorter than high profile state cases you see in the news. Factors impacting length include:

  • Number and complexity of charges
  • Number of defendants / co-conspirators
  • Amount of evidence needing reviewed
  • Witness availability and testimony prep
  • Lawyer experience and preparedness

Talk to your federal defense lawyer about what to expect for your specific trial.

What should I wear to federal criminal court?

Having the right courtroom attire for federal criminal proceedings is surprisingly important. You want to look as professional and sympathetic as possible whether at pretrial hearings or the actual trial.

For men wear a suit and tie or at the very least dress pants, dress shirt and tie. Get a haircut and shave before court. No shorts, jeans, hats, sneakers, hoodies!

For women wear a dress suit, formal dress, or pantsuit – conservative color like navy, black, or grey. Skirts should hit the knee. Minimal jewelry.Looking like you take court seriously helps create a good impression that you and your lawyer can leverage.

Can I fire my court appointed lawyer?

If you were appointed a public defender due to being indigent, know that you do have the right to request a new court appointed lawyer. However, the judge won’t grant the change without good cause.

You’ll have to show an irreconcilable rift like:

  • Complete communication breakdown
  • Strong proof of inadequate representation
  • Clear evidence of an ethics violation

Judges hate delaying trial timelines, so “firing” an appointed lawyer is an uphill battle. But the option exists if needed.

What questions should I ask when hiring a federal defense lawyer?

Smartly hiring the best federal criminal defense lawyer you can afford is critical to the outcome of your case. Here are key questions to ask:

  • How much experience do you have with federal cases specifically?
  • What is your track record getting federal charges dismissed pre-trial?
  • What strategies do you use to get charges dropped or reduced?
  • If my case goes to trial, what is your success rate in fed cases?
  • How much time can you personally commit to my defense?
  • How do you leverage sentencing guidelines to reduce prison time risk?

Any lawyer you feel confident can protect your freedom before trial while aggressively fighting for you in court if it goes to trial is the right choice.

The Bottom Line

Facing federal criminal prosecution is scary stuff. But going into it with knowledge of the process, smart preparation, and an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer on your side can make a huge difference.

Educate yourself on the case specifics, understand your options, and work closely with your lawyer to put forth the strongest defense. It’s a tough road, but taking it one step at a time helps. With perseverance and a stellar legal defense team, you can get through this!

Let us know if you have any other questions – we’re always happy to help!

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