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Philadelphia Federal Violent Crime Charges: Laws, Penalties and Defense Tactics


Violent crime charges in Philadelphia at the federal level are no joke. Prosecutors often pursue federal charges when crimes involve firearms, result in serious injury or death, or are related to drug trafficking or organized criminal enterprises. The stakes are high, with lengthy mandatory minimum sentences on the table.
If you or a loved one is facing federal violent crime charges in Philadelphia, it’s critical to understand the laws, potential penalties, and proactive defense strategies that could mitigate punishment. This guide provides an overview of key issues when facing federal violent crime allegations in Philly.

Federal vs. State Violent Crime Charges

Most violent crimes like murder, assault, robbery, and rape are typically prosecuted at the state level. However, federal authorities can claim jurisdiction under certain circumstances, like:

  • The crime involved crossing state lines or using interstate facilities like highways or the postal system
  • The crime occurred on federal property like a military base or federal courthouse
  • The crime involved a federal officer, federal informant, or federal witness
  • The crime involved terrorism, civil rights violations, or organized criminal activities

Federal violent crime charges often carry harsher penalties than similar state charges. Prosecutors pursue federal charges to send a strong message and take advantage of strict federal sentencing guidelines.

Common Federal Violent Crimes in Philadelphia

Some of the most common federal violent crime charges pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania include:


Federal murder or manslaughter charges apply when a killing occurs during the commission of a federal crime or involves interstate commerce. For example, if a drug deal turned deadly or someone was killed crossing state lines.
Penalties range from 10 years to life in prison or even the federal death penalty depending on circumstances.


Assault charges apply to crimes involving physical attacks against others. Federal charges may result from assaults against federal officers, assaults with dangerous weapons, or beatings causing serious bodily injury.
Potential sentences range from 1-20 years in prison depending on specific circumstances.


Federal kidnapping charges apply when victims are transported across state lines or internationally. Penalties range from life in prison to the death penalty for kidnapping resulting in death.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
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Robberies involving federally insured banks or interstate commerce like armored car robberies often lead to federal charges. Federal bank robbery sentences start at 20 years in prison.


Forcibly stealing a car that has moved in interstate commerce – which includes most vehicles – can trigger federal carjacking charges. Penalties range from 15 years to life in prison.

Drug Trafficking Crimes

Distributing illegal drugs is a federal crime carrying steep sentences. Violence related to drug trafficking activities also leads to federal charges like using a gun during drug deals.

Racketeering Crimes

Violent crimes related to racketeering enterprises like the mafia lead to federal RICO charges. These carry up to 20 years per count.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

One key difference in federal cases is the use of strict sentencing guidelines. Federal judges have less discretion and must impose sentences within guideline ranges based on a defendant’s criminal history and details of the crime.
Mandatory minimum sentences set a floor for certain federal crimes. For example, conviction under 924(c) for using a firearm during a violent crime mandates at least 5 years consecutive to any other sentence.
Prosecutors can file notices to seek enhanced penalties in certain cases. For example, seeking the death penalty for certain killings during drug trafficking activities.
Unlike state court, federal parole no longer exists. Defendants must serve at least 85% of imposed sentences.

Stages of a Federal Criminal Case in Philadelphia

The typical progression of a federal violent crime case includes:

  1. Investigation – Federal agencies like the FBI, ATF, or DEA investigate the alleged crime.
  2. Charges – An indictment or criminal complaint is filed outlining the charges.
  3. Arrest and Arraignment – Defendant is arrested and brought before a judge to hear charges.
  4. Detention Hearing – Court decides whether defendant is released pre-trial or detained.
  5. Preliminary Hearing – Prosecutors must show probable cause the crime occurred.
  6. Plea or Trial – Most federal cases end in guilty pleas. Trials involve jury selection and testimony.
  7. Sentencing – Judge imposes a sentence based on guidelines and statutory minimums.
  8. Appeal – Defendants can appeal convictions or sentences to higher courts.

The early stages after charges offer the best chance to mitigate potential penalties through effective defense advocacy.

Federal Violent Crime Defenses in Philadelphia

Skilled federal defense attorneys deploy various strategies to contest violent crime allegations, including:

  • Challenging evidence – File motions to suppress evidence from unconstitutional searches or interrogations.
  • Questioning witnesses – Thoroughly investigate prosecution witnesses and evidence to expose inconsistencies.
  • Affirmative defenses – Raise justifications like self-defense or insanity.
  • Cooperation – Provide substantial assistance to prosecutors in exchange for lesser charges or reduced sentencing.
  • Sentencing mitigation – Present mitigating factors to judges requesting lower sentences within guideline ranges.

An experienced federal violent crimes lawyer understands how to navigate these issues in the complex federal court system.

Why Federal Violent Crime Cases Require Experienced Defense

Here’s why facing federal violent crime charges in Philadelphia requires specialized defense counsel:

  • Prosecutors almost never lose – Over 99% of federal cases end in conviction due to resource disparities.
  • Harsh sentencing practices – Mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines lead to severe punishment.
  • Reliance on informants – Prosecutors often build cases using informant testimony in exchange for leniency.
  • Sophisticated investigations – Federal agencies use extensive technical resources when investigating crimes.

Retaining a top federal violent crimes lawyer provides the best chance to level the playing field against the power of the federal government.

Finding the Best Federal Violent Crime Lawyer in Philadelphia

When facing federal prosecution, it’s essential to have an experienced lawyer familiar with the federal system. Seek out counsel with a proven track record handling specific types of federal violent crime cases.
Be wary of lawyers who rarely handle federal cases or lack experience with complex federal charging statutes. The quality of legal representation often makes the difference between prison time and preserving your freedom.


Facing federal violent crime charges in Philadelphia is extremely serious. Prosecutors often pursue the harshest possible penalties.
Understanding the applicable laws, sentencing practices, stages of prosecution, and proactive defense strategies is crucial. Retaining an experienced federal violent crimes lawyer provides the best opportunity to contest the charges and seek the most favorable outcome possible.


U.S. Drug Trafficking Example
Federal Murder Example
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
U.S. v. Bowens – Federal Kidnapping/Murder Case
Federal Criminal Procedure in PA
18 USC 924 – Firearm Penalties

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