Tens of thousands of federal criminal cases are tried each and every year. These cases, which can range from mail fraud to drug trafficking, are often more difficult to defend against and carry more serious sentences. Federal crimes carry harsher penalties and can have major ramifications for your life and livelihood.
Don’t let these charges define you. If you are facing federal charges, you need an experienced federal crimes attorney. Call Peter Blair (619) 357-4977 or contact us online to schedule your free and confidential consultation.
Federal vs. State Criminal Cases
Federal court cases differ from state-level criminal cases in a number of ways. Federal courts have jurisdiction—that is, the authorization to hear certain cases—only in certain situations, such as when:
- The United States is a party in the case
- The case involves a violation of the U.S. Constitution
- The case involves a violation of federal laws
- The case involves citizens of different states and the amount in questions exceeds $75,000
- The case involves bankruptcy, copyright, patent, or maritime law
Individual states, however, have broader jurisdiction, which is why the state handles a much wider array of cases; state courts are equipped to handle everything from robbery and drug offenses to petty theft and traffic violations. Unless the case is brought against the U.S. or involves some type of federal law (be it criminal, bankruptcy, antitrust, patent, copyright, or maritime).
Essentially, whether or not the crime is a federal one will depend on the circumstances of the case. The federal court typically has jurisdiction when the case involves multiple states, a federal system (such as the U.S. Postal Service), or occurs on federal property (such as a military base or national park). Federal courts also have jurisdiction when a state law is alleged to violate the Constitution.
Federal crimes also generally come with harsher sentences than state crimes. In particular, drug crimes and sexual offenses, when prosecuted in federal court, tend to result in more jail time and stiffer fines. While the mandatory minimum sentence for a serious drug offense might be only a few years under state law, a federal case could carry a mandatory minimum sentence of more than 5 years, depending on the amount of drugs and the circumstances involved.
Federal criminal cases also differ from state cases in their execution. Law enforcement agencies who enforce federal laws and investigate federal offenses are usually well-staffed and well-funded, leading to a more thorough investigation. Federal prosecutors are well-trained and have a massive base of resources at their disposal; plus, they typically don’t have to deal with the overcrowding and scheduling issues of state and municipal courts.
How Federal Cases Work
There are four stages in a typical federal case:
- Indictment: A serious criminal case starts out with an indictment, a.k.a. a formal accusation that someone committed a crime. In a federal case, the U.S. prosecutor will present evidence to a federal grand jury to show there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. After the indictment is issued, the accused will be arrested or summoned to court, depending on the severity of the crime. However, grand juries are often reserved for felony offenses. If the crime is a misdemeanor, the prosecutor can instead issue an “information,” which takes the place of an indictment.
- Pretrial: The first step of the pretrial stage is arraignment, where the accused is brought to court to hear the charges he or she is facing and enter a plea. If the accused pleads guilty, a court date is scheduled for sentencing. If the accused pleads not guilty, a court date is set for the trial. After arraignment, your criminal defense attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, including examining physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, obtaining security camera footage, etc. This also includes investigating how the federal prosecutor obtained his or her information and making sure it was gathered by legal means.
- Trial: Depending on the circumstances of the case, the defendant can opt for a jury trial or a bench trial (where the judge decides the facts and renders the verdict him or herself). If the accused opts for a jury trial, it typically follows this progression: jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence, evidence rulings, closing arguments, instruction/standard of proof, verdict. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to illustrate the specifics of a jury trial if your case gets that far.
- Post-trial: If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will set a date for the sentencing hearing. It is important to note that, when it comes to federal cases, the judge will determine whether or not the defendant will go to prison, not the jury. After the sentence is determined, the judge issues a judgment, which encompasses the plea, the verdict, and the sentence. A defendant found guilty in federal court has the right to appeal his or her verdict; during the appeals process, the court of appeals will review whether or not the trial was conducted properly. A defendant who pleads guilty in federal court cannot appeal the decision, but he or she may be able to appeal the sentence.
Types of Federal Crimes
Federal crimes come in a number of different forms, including:
- Drug crimes, including drug trafficking, drug importation/exportation, drug manufacturing, and distribution
- White-collar crimes, including fraud, larceny, mail or wire fraud, mortgage fraud, money laundering, tax crime, corruption, and environmental crimes
- Firearm offenses
- Immigration crimes
- Child pornography
Contact An Experienced Federal Crimes Attorney
You are more than the charges against you. Don’t let serious federal accusations affect your life for years to come. An experienced federal crimes attorney like Peter Blair can help you navigate the criminal justice system and determine the best plan of action for your defense. When facing serious federal charges, it is in your best interest to be proactive. The sooner you act, the better your chance of minimizing jail time or avoiding a conviction altogether. Mr. Blair can help develop a sound defense strategy that gives you the best chance at a favorable outcome, and he will fight for you and your freedom.