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I Have Been Charged with a Federal Crime: What Should I do Now?
Being charged with a federal crime is a serious matter. The federal government has made it a priority to aggressively investigate and prosecute federal offenses like drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons offenses, RICO violations, embezzlement and mortgage fraud, and the consequences associated with a conviction at the federal level are severe. If you have been charged with a federal crime, whether the allegations against you have to do with a drug offense, a white-collar crime, a violent crime, a sex crime or a fraud offense, the very first thing you should do is hire an attorney to represent you. Your rights, your career, your freedom and your future are all at stake when facing criminal charges at the federal level, so don’t wait to speak to an attorney. With a reputable federal criminal defense lawyer in your corner, you can maximize your chances of obtaining a successful outcome in your case. Contact our top-rated federal crime defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers as soon as possible so we can get to work defending you against the criminal charges you are facing.
Understanding the Federal Criminal Process
While most crimes committed in the United States are prosecuted under state criminal law, crimes that occur at the federal level are prosecuted under federal criminal law. The federal criminal process is similar to the California state process in some ways, but there are also some important differences between the two. If you are facing criminal charges in federal court, you will want to familiarize yourself with the specifics of the federal process, so you know what to expect at each stage. The following are the main elements of the criminal process in the federal system, which may or may not apply to your particular case. Please consult a skilled criminal defense attorney for detailed information about your specific situation.
The first stage in the federal criminal process is the investigation of an alleged crime. There are a number of investigative agencies at the federal level that are tasked with collecting and providing information to the United States Attorneys, including the FBI and the DEA. Investigators at these agencies investigate crimes and obtain evidence, sometimes through the use of a search warrant, with the goal of making an arrest. In some cases, an arrest may take place before an investigation, i.e. if the police witness the suspect committing a crime.
United States Attorneys are the prosecutors for federal cases, and they represent the federal government in U.S. district courts and courts of appeals. Once the U.S. Attorney examines the information provided by the investigators in a federal case, he will decide whether to present the evidence to a grand jury. The purpose of the grand jury is to listen to the prosecutor’s evidence and witness testimony (for the prosecution only, not the defense) and decide whether there is enough evidence to charge the suspect with a crime. If they decide that there is probable cause to believe that the suspect committed a crime, they will hand down an indictment. An indictment serves as formal notice that the government intends to pursue criminal charges, providing the suspect with basic information about the charges against him. It is at this point that most defendants choose to retain the services of a criminal defense lawyer.
Once the defendant has been arrested and charged with a crime, usually on the same day or the following day, he is brought before a judge for an initial hearing on the case. It is during this hearing that the defendant learns more about the charges against him and the judge decides whether the defendant will be held in prison or released on bail until the trial is held. The defendant will also be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty during the arraignment.
Before the trial begins, the prosecutor and defense attorney must prepare their case. In order to determine the facts of the case, each side will read any reports written about the case and talk to witnesses who could be called to testify in court. The prosecutor must then provide the defendant and his attorney with copies of materials and evidence the prosecution plans to use at trial, including any evidence that could show that the defendant is innocent. This process is called “discovery.”
In some cases, the federal government may offer the defendant a plea deal, which typically involves the defendant pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced charge or a lighter sentence. In accepting a plea deal, the defendant can avoid trial and may reduce his exposure to more severe penalties that could result from a conviction. However, a plea deal is not always in the defendant’s best interest, which is why you need a good defense attorney on your side when facing federal charges. A trial can be costly and time-consuming, and a favorable outcome is not guaranteed, but the government is also required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, which is no easy task. If the government offers you a plea bargain, your attorney will examine the facts of the case, determine whether your interests are best served with a plea bargain or trial, and advise you of the legal consequences of accepting a plea offer or going to trial. If you plead guilty to the crime, the next step will be sentencing.
If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, a preliminary hearing may be held, during which the prosecution must show that there is enough evidence to charge the defendant with a crime. If the judge determines that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime, a trial will be scheduled.
It is common for pre-trial motions to be filed by the prosecutor or defense attorney prior to the start of the trial. Pre-trial motions are applications to the court requesting that the court make a decision on certain issues before the trial begins.
Depending on the complexity of the case, the trial may begin within weeks or months after the defendant’s arrest. During trial, the prosecutor and defense attorney each present the facts of the case to a jury using evidence and witness testimony, and the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges. In federal criminal trials, the jury can only convict the defendant if the decision is unanimous.
If the defendant is convicted during trial, there are still several motions that can be filed after the trial has ended. These may include a Motion for a New Trial, a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct a Sentence.
A defendant found guilty at trial must return to court for a sentencing hearing. The sentence imposed by the court for a federal crime can vary a great deal depending on the nature and severity of the crime, although there are specific minimum and maximum sentences established by Congress for many federal offenses, including certain federal drug crimes. The judge may consider certain aggravating or mitigating factors in choosing the appropriate sentence for a defendant, including the gravity of the crime, whether the defendant has expressed regret for the crime, and whether the defendant has prior convictions for the same crime. The death penalty can only be imposed on federal defendants convicted of capital offenses, such as murder.
Even after a defendant has been convicted of a federal crime, that doesn’t mean he is out of options. Defendants found guilty at trial can still appeal the case to the U.S. court of appeal if they believe they were wrongly convicted of the crime or the sentence imposed by the court was too harsh. An appeal is an opportunity for the defendant to raise specific issues or errors that may have occurred during the trial, such as incorrect decisions made by the judge.
Contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Consultation
A federal crime is a crime prosecuted under federal criminal law, as opposed to one prosecuted under state criminal law. The federal criminal justice system is notoriously tough on offenders and a conviction at the federal level can follow you for the rest of your life, which is why it is always a good idea to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney when facing federal charges. Every federal criminal case is different, with unique facts and circumstances that can affect the outcome, and an attorney can help you understand if and how the information presented above applies to your case. For the toughest, most skilled representation in your federal criminal case, contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers. Our defense attorneys have extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of federal cases and we will do everything in our power to resolve the charges against you. Call our firm today for a free initial consultation.