What Happens In A Federal Criminal Case?
Dr. Nick Oberheiden, Esq.Criminal Defense AttorneyDirect: 888-680-1745
The attorneys of Oberheiden, P.C. are dealing with federal cases for their clients in courts across the country. Among the distinct qualifications of the attorneys of Oberheiden, P.C. is the combination of former service for the Department of Justice and years of federal trial court experience.
Our unique background allows us to analyze cases from the government’s perspective and to defend clients from our profound understanding of how a federal case develops and processes. Contact us now to speak with a former federal prosecutor or federal defense counsel at 888-680-1745.
Investigation. The majority of federal criminal cases start in obscurity. Law-enforcement agencies such as agents of the FBI, the IRS, or the DEA begin investigations without the target’s and suspect’s knowledge. These investigations can take weeks, months, and sometimes even years before a decision is made to proceed and to officially open a case. This decision is made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Arrest. If and when the investigating federal agent believes that enough evidence exists to convince a federal judge to issue an arrest warrant, the federal prosecutor on the case will request that an arrest warrant be issued. The judge will review the evidence presented, read supporting affidavits of the investigating agent, and then determine whether probable cause exists. Law-enforcement agents will then locate the suspect, arrest them, and bring them to a detention holding facility and a Pretrial Service Officer.
Pre-trial Detention Hearing. The Constitution requires that every defendant be presented to a federal judge within a specific time frame. In federal cases, this review is conducted at the initial appearance hearing. At this hearing, a federal judge determines whether or not the arrested individual has to stay in custody or if they can be released upon conditions. At this point, the judge will, based on the recommendations of the Pretrial Service Officer, appoint an attorney if the financial means of the arrested person are too limited to pay for an attorney on their own.
Indictment or Information. The initial appearance does not formally charge someone with a crime–– that step occurs either through an indictment or by way of an information. An indictment is issued by a federal grand jury in a secret, confidential proceeding in the absence of the defendant. If the grand jurors find it more probable than not that an individual has committed a crime, the defendant will be indicted. Once indicted, the defendant becomes officially and publicly accused of a crime. A defendant’s counsel will often waive the right to a grand jury and simply accept an information that contains the same formal accusations in order to avoid the grand jury proceeding.
Arraignment. After the indictment and information, the defendant must appear at the arraignment hearing. At this event, the defendant will hear from the judge that they are now formally charged with a crime. It is common to plead “not guilty” because the defense will often not have seen all of the evidence the government has gathered at this point in time to make a sound decision about the defendant’s actual involvement in the crime and level of culpability.
Discovery. The government has a responsibility to disclose evidence to the defendant. For the first time, the defendant may now be able to see what evidence exists and from what sources the evidence comes from. In nearly all cases, the review of the evidence will determine the defendant’s decision to move forward and go to trial, or, to prepare for a guilty plea if the evidence appears strong, convincing, or even watertight.
Plea Bargaining & Re-Arraignment. In the large majority of federal criminal cases, defendants will plead guilty and avoid going to trial. In that case, the defendant, now fully aware of the existing evidence, will go back to court and, after proper education about the meaning and consequences of a plea, will plead guilty in open court. In some cases, defense counsel and the government can agree on a plea agreement, which may contain a provision about the maximum sentence the government is planning on seeking against the defendant.
Motions & Trial.The case moves to trial if the defendant questions the evidence and the culpability is tested. Motions to suppress certain evidence, requests to disclose witness lists, inquiries into legal arguments, and other requests to prepare for trial are submitted within court-given deadlines. The case will be presided over by a federal judge with the support of twelve jurors at trial. The jury’s function is to determine factual contentions, while the judge decides all questions regarding the law, such as the admissibility of evidence.
Federal Sentencing. The case continues to the sentencing hearing if the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial. The presiding judge, without a jury, will review the sentencing recommendations made by the assigned U.S. probation officer and analyze the facts and the applicable law in light of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, judicial discretion, and constitutional constraints. Before the judge declares the sentence, the defendant and their counsel will have a chance to address the court.
Supervised Release. If sentenced, the judge may also order a supervised release following a period of incarceration. This means that the defendant, although no longer incarcerated, will have to abide by conditions and restrictions to monitor their lawful reintegration into society. Among the most common conditions are a court ordered prohibition to violate state or federal law, the passing of drug tests, and the continued monitoring of the released individual by the U.S. Probation Office.
Federal Appeals. Trial convictions and, to some lesser degree sentences based on pleas, are appealable. The purpose of an appeal is to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals, to review the case and examine alleged errors. Common grounds to appeal a federal criminal conviction or sentence include exculpatory evidence not disclosed to the defendant, illegally obtained evidence, and abuse of the judge’s sentencing discretion.
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This information has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information may constitute attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Reading of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Prior results do not guarantee similar future outcomes. Oberheiden, P.C. is a Texas PC with headquarters in Dallas. Dr. Oberheiden limits his practice to federal law.