Have You Been Charged With a Federal Crime? Here Are Your Next Steps
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Federal and state crimes alike carry stiff penalties. Many people make the mistake of believing, however, that the federal and state court systems run the same. They don’t. If you’ve been accused of a federal crime, it’s helpful to know what’s coming next for you.
Keep reading to learn about what makes a crime a federal crime and what happens when you move through the federal court system.
What Constitutes a Federal Crime?
Those charged with a federal crime have broken a law of the country and not just a state law. This means the court system will try them at a higher level than the state level.
The federal crime will involve a crime that interrupts activities that are federally regulated. Mail tampering, tax evasion, and airplane hijacking all qualify, for example, because such activities disrupt federally regulated processes.
When a person violates federal law, they must go to federal court where they face a prosecution that functions under federal guidelines.
Jurisdiction plays a major role in separating federal and state crimes. The term “jurisdiction” refers to the legal power to make decisions. So when authorities are establishing jurisdiction, they’re basically determining who has the authority or legal power to make decisions in the case.
Jurisdiction depends on the location of the crime. For example, if a person vandalizes a local community park, the jurisdiction lies with the state. However, if they vandalize a monument at a national park, the jurisdiction lies with the federal government.
Though the federal agencies may work with local agencies for the investigation, the prosecution will take place in federal court.
Learn the Federal Crime Prosecution Process
The process of dealing with a federal crime compares with working with a state court with a few differences. So first and foremost, familiarize yourself with the process of federal court. You can do this best by finding an attorney with experience in the federal court system
Look for a good attorney who understands the federal criminal prosecution process and federal criminal penalties.
Wait While They Investigate
Federal agents including F.B.I agents will investigate the crime, often with local or state police. They will search for evidence of the crime but not file charges. If they suspect you of committing or participating in a federal crime, agents will contact you.
You have the same constitutional rights whether an authority accuses you of a federal crime or a state crime. You still have the right to say nothing. If you believe authorities suspect you of a crime, contact your attorney before you unknowingly give up your rights.
If the U.S. district attorney believes authorities have enough evidence, they will file criminal charges in a federal district court. This does not mean you will automatically go to trial. A grand jury still has to determine there is enough evidence to charge you formally.
The grand jury is a panel of sixteen to twenty-three U.S. citizens. If you haven’t already contacted your attorney, you should do so immediately when you receive notice that a grand jury is gathering. The federal court does not allow the defense attorney to enter the grand jury room, but your lawyer can still advise you outside of the proceedings.
Stay Silent and Cooperate
You will not know in advance if authorities are going to arrest you. So when this does happen, don’t be alarmed. Give the agents basic information such as your name and address. Cooperate by going with the authorities and allowing them to fingerprint you.
Agents will want to take a statement from you as well. Do not give a statement without your attorney present. Tell the agents you need to see your attorney instead, and then contact your attorney and wait.
Agents will attempt to coax you into giving an incriminating statement. Remember, you have the constitutional right to remain silent, so exercise that right until your attorney advises you otherwise.
Let Your Attorney Talk
Once federal agents have arrested you and told you why they’ve arrested you, you should have the chance to contact your attorney. They will then take you to the local federal courthouse either on the day they arrest you or the next day. Here you will appear before a federal judge who will arraign you.
Arraignment is the proceedings where the judge reads the formal crimes against you so you understand what authorities are charging you with. You should have your lawyer present at the arraignment.
At the arraignment, you state your plea. You need your attorney with you so you can enter a not guilty plea. The attorney will also act on your behalf to establish a reasonable bail for our release.
Legally, federal prosecutors must share all of their evidence with the defense attorney. They must reveal both the incriminating evidence and exculpatory evidence. The incriminating evidence indicates that you committed the crime, whereas the exculpatory evidence shows you did not commit the crime.
This entire process of sharing evidence is called “discovery.” Discovery gives your lawyer the chance to examine documents and evidence as well as interview witnesses. This way your attorney can prepare an effective defense.
Trust Your Attorney
Two to three weeks after your arraignment, the judge will hold a preliminary hearing. At this hearing, the prosecution will reveal their evidence for each part of the crime. You or your lawyer may waive this hearing.
At the hearing, your attorney can see the evidence and determine if the prosecution has enough evidence for all of the charges against you. If your attorney sees a lack of evidence, they can push the judge to drop unsupported charges.
Your attorney can request a pretrial motion if they see problems such as a violation of your constitutional rights or insufficient evidence. At pretrial, the defense attorney can argue that evidence is not admissible.
Your attorney may also conduct a plea bargain at this point. A pretrial motion is the best chance for a defense attorney to advocate for their client.
If you do not accept a plea bargain and the federal court does not dismiss your charge, your case will move to a trial. In federal court, defendants stand trial before a twelve-person jury. You may have the federal judge decide charges if both the prosecution and defense agree to waive the jury.
If a defendant loses the trial, they will stand sentencing months after the trial has finished. The federal judge will hold the sentencing hearing where the defendant and the victims of the crime present their statements.
After the sentencing, your attorney may go through the process of appealing a federal crime.
Know the Process
When you’re accused of a federal crime, hire an attorney with federal defense experience. The federal prosecution process differs from state prosecution. Furthermore, federal prosecutors have extensive experience, so you need a defense attorney with matching experience.
If you’ve been accused of a crime, federal or state, we can help. Our attorneys at Hanlon Law have the experience you need when you’re facing serious federal charges. Give us a call today and let us help you.
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