As you might expect, facing a federal criminal charge is a serious situation. An alleged criminal act becomes a federal case if it involves the federal government in some manner. Examples include the robbery of a federally insured financial institution, or the murder of a federal agent, official or other worker.
Whichever federal agency is investigating the alleged crime may choose to make an arrest, or may wait until more evidence has been gathered. They may request a warrant from a judge, or ask a grand jury to subpoena witnesses to either testify or supply evidence.
Appearing in court on a federal charge
If a suspect has been arrested after the issue of a search warrant or an indictment, he or she will be held in custody until court proceedings begin. If neither a warrant nor an indictment were put forth, an arrested suspect must be brought before a judge for an initial appearance within 72 hours.
At this time, the suspect will be advised of his or her rights to counsel and silence. These are two of the most valuable rights a suspect has, and it is often wise to exercise them both. Depending on the perceived danger of the suspect, he or she will either be set free or held in custody.
Before possibly going to trial, the following events will occur:
- Arraignment – The arraignment is the formal presentation of the charges, and entering of a plea.
- Discovery and motion – This represents the exchange of information between prosecution and defense, and filing of motions to dismiss, suppress or introduce evidence, etc.
- Plea bargaining – The defendant may choose to enter a guilty plea, generally in exchange for the dismissal of other charges, or for a reduced sentence.
Going to trial for a federal crime
In general, a trial is divided into three major parts: Voir Dire is the process of selecting a jury. The Guilt Stage consists of opening arguments, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, instructions to the jury and deliberations. Finally, if a guilty verdict is returned, the Sentencing Stage, during which occurs the pre-sentence investigation, the defendant’s right of allocution, victim impact statements are read, parties’ arguments are presented and a sentence is handed down.
If a guilty verdict is returned, the convicted person may then appeal the conviction, or challenge the sentence. Appeals are made to a circuit court of appeals. If this doesn’t get the desired result, an appeal may be made to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fighting federal charges requires experienced help
As you can see, a federal case can be a complicated and lengthy process. It can also be frightening and overwhelming. The best course of action for anyone charged with a federal crime would be to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
A criminal defense lawyer with experience as both a prosecutor and a defender in the state of California will fight for your rights in an effort to achieve the best possible result.