Federal Criminal Defense & The Federal Criminal Process
Federal crimes usually involve conduct or contraband which has traveled across state lines and involve offenses such as:
- Narcotics conspiracies;
- Threats against public officials;
- Bribery of public officials;
- Fraud via the mail system, computers, or telephones;
- Fraud involving public and private health care facilities;
- Possession, manufacture, or distribution of obscene materials or child pornography;
- Money Laundering;
- Certain Firearms Offenses;
- Tax Evasion; and,
- All manner of computer crimes
This list is merely illustrative; there are many other federal crimes that have not been included. In fact, there are over 4,000 offenses that carry criminal penalties in the United States Code. The federal criminal system should not be navigated without having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side.
Being accused of a federal crime is very serious and can involve major consequences. If you or someone you know has been arrested for a federal crime, or is currently being investigated for a federal offense, you need advice from a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in handling federal crimes. At Joaquin & Duncan, L.L.C., our federal criminal defense attorneys will work hard to protect your rights and preserve your freedom.
Federal criminal law is often more complex than state law. Our attorneys are familiar with the different procedural rules and can take your case to trial, or can negotiate an advantageous deal if that is the best option. It is vital to employ high quality representation as early as possible to avoid an unfortunate result. Having an attorney experienced with federal criminal law can help you avoid many of the legal difficulties the federal criminal system presents.
The Federal Criminal Process
The attorneys at Joaquin & Duncan, L.L.C. believe that an informed client is key to a successful defense. For this reason, we present a general overview of the federal system.
Initially, it is important to understand that the federal system is often a sentence-driven system. Criminal defendants in this country are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Federal agents tend to wait until they have an “airtight” case, usually by using confidential informants, extensive surveillance, wire taps, and other sophisticated means of obtaining evidence typically not seen in state cases.
Many times, you first learn that you are being investigated when you are charged with an offense. However, it is not unusual for federal agents to try to visit with you to get a statement. Prosecutors know that the strongest evidence is typically the words of someone accused of a crime. Federal agents have extensive training on how to elicit incriminating statements. They are also trained to stop questioning when a suspect clearly and unequivocally invokes his right to counsel. Your constitutional rights allow you to invoke the right to speak with your attorney without answering any questions.
All offenses against the United States are found in the United States Code. Charges for violating a federal law can be filed several different ways. First, a federal agent may approach a magistrate judge with a sworn affidavit accusing someone of a crime. If the magistrate judge finds that probable cause exists to believe that the accused committed the crime, he or she may sign the Complaint and issue an arrest warrant. The Complaint is typically used in cases where government wants your immediate arrest and detention.
Charges can also be file by the prosecutor (the United States Attorney) using a similar document called an Information. If the case proceeds by way of an Information or a Complaint, the accused is entitled to a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the burden is on the prosecution to present evidence sufficient for the judge to find probable cause that a felony was committed and that the accused could have committed it. This is a very low burden of proof and the accused should make a decision on whether or not to have such a hearing with the advice of counsel.
Another way to be charged for violating a federal law is by Indictment. The Indictment lists all of the charges and it is sworn to by the head of the Grand Jury. This is a secret group of people who have reviewed the government’s evidence and have decided whether or not there is probable cause to charge. In cases where an Indictment is issued, the accused is not entitled to a preliminary hearing. Commonly, a case begins with the filing of a Complaint. Following the preliminary hearing, the government will then seek an Indictment.
Upon arrest, the accused learns whether the government has filed a motion to detain them pending trial. Typically, the accused would be arrested by the officers investigating the case or by the United States Marshals and transported to a federal holding facility. The accused is entitled to an immediate hearing, notified of the charges, and given a chance to seek bond.
Once arrested, the accused will immediately have a meeting with a pretrial services officer who will conduct a quick background investigation and provide a report to the judge with a recommendation as to whether or not bond should be granted. Any statements to the pretrial officer are very important and if possible, the accused should have the assistance of an attorney. Under no circumstances should the facts of the case be discussed with the pretrial services officer. Anything said can and will be used in court.
Trial or Plea
Once charges are filed, a person accused of violated a federal crime can plead not guilty and dispute all charges. If you decide to fight the charges, a jury of 12 will decide whether you are innocent or guilty. If you are found not guilty, the case is over. If you are found guilty, you will have a sentencing hearing sometime after the jury verdict.
Another option is to plead guilty. Where there are multiple charges, this type of plea can result in some of the charges being dismissed. An accused may also decide to “plead to the court” meaning that you plead guilty as charged, without any type of deal with the prosecutor. In both instances, you will likely receive a minimal sentence reduction for what is called “acceptance of responsibility.” Most federal prosecutions result in some type of plea agreement. While pleading to the court is not usually recommended, it is sometimes the right course of action, depending on the facts of your case.
A third option is to plead guilty and cooperate with the government. If you cooperate and provide “substantial assistance” to the government in the form of information, identification of other criminal actors, other conspiracies and even provide testimony, the prosecutor may agree to file a motion (commonly called a §5K1.1, 18 U.S.C. §3553 motion) that could result in a reduction in your sentence. The government will file such a motion if and only if substantial assistance is provided. To receive the prosecutor’s help, you have to be completely truthful as well as provide information that can assist the government in a new prosecution, or in obtaining a conviction in a pending matter.
If you are a foreign national and have been charged with a federal offense, you could be deported based on that criminal charge. At the law firm of Joaquin & Duncan, L.L.C., our attorneys not only provide criminal defense, we appear at deportation hearings and work aggressively to keep you from getting deported.
Time is of the Essence
Once a person is accused in federal court, the speedy trial clock begins ticking. The government has a limited amount of time to get a person to trial, and the length of time depends on several factors. If you want a trial, you must make the critical decision as to whether to assert your speedy trial rights, and this must be done quickly.
In addition, federal prosecutions commonly charge more than one defendant. Because the sentencing ranges are so punitive, most attorneys and their clients begin the case by trying to work out a deal and cooperate with the Government. Typically, the defendant who has the most to lose cooperates first and usually gets out first. Further, the prosecutor usually will give a limited number of §5K1 motions. Therefore, the defendants who have waited too long will be left out in the cold. Often, the least guilty person refuses to enter any type of cooperation agreement because of his/her minimal culpability. In the end, this person may receive a longer sentence than the actual ring-leader because the ring‑leader decided early on to cooperate.
For these reasons, it is critical to hire an attorney who knows the system and who can guide you as to the best course of action quickly. Our attorneys have the type of experience necessary to help you make those decisions.
The Importance of Confidentiality
Do not talk to anyone regarding anything about your case without first discussing the matter with your attorney. You may discuss anything concerning your case with your attorney because these matters are confidential under the law. Remember: this confidential privilege extends only to discussions between you and your attorney and your attorney’s staff.
Anything you tell your family, friends or others such as cellmates is not confidential, and the court may compel those people to testify about what you have said whether they want to testify or not.
The attorney-client privilege exists between you, your attorney and your attorney’s staff only. For this reason your attorney cannot discuss your case with your family or friends without your permission. You alone must give such permission after serious discussion with your attorney.